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Man Utd: The Shinji Kagawa Dilemma

"Shinji Kagawa is one of the best players in the world and he now plays 20 minutes at Manchester United on the left wing" "My heart breaks" "Really, I have tears in my eyes. He's an offensive midfielder with one of the best noses for goal I ever saw" Borussia Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp on his former player, Shinji Kagawa. Although Borussia Dortmund have reportedly shown an interest in re-signing their former Japanese star from Manchester United, you genuinely sense that Jurgen Klopp's quotes, while dramatic, are from the heart. Klopp, like Jose Mourinho, shares a special relationship with his players that extends beyond their time working together. Therefore after watching the player that he signed, nurtured, and developed into one of the best players in the Bundesliga in a mere two title-winning seasons, Klopp can be forgiven for wincing at the treatment Kagawa is receiving at United. When Ferguson went to watch Dortmund's Cup final with Bayern Munich two seasons ago he witnessed one of the great team performances of any side in recent memory. After beating Bayern to the Bundesliga title, Dortmund annihilated Germany's traditional powerhouse 5-2 in Berlin. While Lewandowski may have grabbed the headlines with a two goal cameo, Kagawa was at the centre of everything that was good about Dortmund. Playing in the hole behind lone striker Lewandowski, Kagawa pulled the strings scoring the opener and assisting Lewandowski's first goal. Understandably Ferguson did not hesitate in signing the classy play-maker. United and Kagawa seemed destined to be the perfect match. At the time of his arrival Robin Van Persie was still an Arsenal player, meaning that the Kagawa would likely be deployed in his familiar role behind the striker, in this case Wayne Rooney. Theoretically Kagawa would be the player charged with providing a creative spark that was undoubtedly lacking in the previous season. Even with Van Persie's arrival, despite potential tactical complications, United's forward line was looking back to its formidable best, with Kagawa along with the likes of Valencia and Carrick providing Rooney, Van Persie and Chicharito with the ammunition to fire United back to the Premier League's summit. Though that proved to be the case, the season's two new signings fared extremely differently. The campaign was defined by and will be remembered for Van Persie's goals, including a title-winning hat-trick against Villa at Old Trafford. Kagawa meanwhile played a peripheral role. Injury and lack of form hampered his debut season, though he did manage to show glimpses of his undeniable talent, notably with his impressive hat-trick against Norwich. Kagawa received his fare share of critics for failing to reproduce the sort of form that he displayed consistently in Germany, though players of the Japanese's quality had arrived in the Premier League before and taken a season to bed in. Big things were still expected of Kagawa. Particularly with the arrival of David Moyes, a new manager, a new start. However Kagawa has again failed to sparkle at United, as the Champions have slumped to their worst start in Premier League history. The question remains; is Kagawa being given ample opportunity to showcase his talent? Though hindsight is a wonderful thing, I would argue that with the signing of Van Persie, Kagawa's role in the side became slightly obscure. At that moment Ferguson had given himself a headache, albeit a pleasant one. He now had to find a way to successfully fit Rooney, Van Persie and Kagawa into one single team, a task even Ferguson failed to achieve. Though injuries to Kagawa and Rooney's loss of form may have deprived Ferguson of his chance to utilise the three harmoniously, Moyes on the other hand lacks the same excuse. Any hope that Kagawa would be a different entity altogether this season was dashed by Moyes' first few teamsheets. Kagawa was the notable omission, allegedly due to fatigue (Kagawa having played in the Confederations Cup in Brazil over the summer). Yet even since Kagawa has returned to full fitness, he has not been given a consecutive run in the side. Tradition has a great deal to account for when considering why Kagawa has not been played regularly, and why when he has started has not performed well. Manchester United are a club that always play with two wingers and usually two strikers. Think of another top side in the Premier League, or even Europe that line-up in a similar way, that is with two wingers and two strikers. Its tough, City potentially? Although I'd argue that Navas is their only out and out winger. The formation in fashion at the moment is centred around a lone striker, supported by an array of Kagawa-like players floating menacingly behind, playing in the pockets of space between the lines of defence and midfield. In the Premier League Arsenal have Ozil and Cazorla, Chelsea; Mata, Hazard and Oscar, City; Silva, Nasri and Jovetic. Kagawa would fit perfectly into any of these sides tactically, and undoubtedly flourish. Yet at United, stylistically it seems, he is incompatible. As Klopp has declared, he is forced out onto the left wing where he is comparatively ineffective. He is forced onto the left wing as that is United's weakest attacking position, and because there is no room in their formation to accommodate a 'number 10'. Whether United are two or three years behind the tactical curve is another debate entirely, but what I feel confident it predicting is that either United find a way to accommodate Kagawa, or eventually he will have to leave, especially given that this is a World Cup year. The harrowing fact is that if he were to part with United, the likelihood is that he would go on to reproduce the form of his Dortmund days, in a team and a system that would appreciate more the rare talent that he has.
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A History student and Manchester United fan with a passion for all things football.