The Japanese international signed for the Bundesliga and Champions League runners-up in 2010 at the age of 21 and, under manager Jürgen Klopp, developed into one of the most highly rated attacking midfielders on the continent.
Kagawa struggled with injury in his debt season with the Red Devils last term whilst Dortmund kicked on without him. United paid a reported £17 million for the playmaker who had scored 17 goals and made 14 assists across 43 appearances in all competitions in 2011/12.
Last term the 24-year-old made just 26 appearances in total for United and whilst he won the Premier League title under Sir Alex Ferguson, he featured just 20 times in the league, of which only 8 were starts and only 5 were for a full 90 minutes.
This was a matter of concern and frustration for his former manager Klopp who stated earlier on in the season his belief that Kagawa’s immense talent was, in effect, going to waste at Old Trafford.
“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,” said Klopp in May.
Dortmund have seen a number of their star players lured away from the Westfalenstadion in recent years – the likes of Nuri Sahin who moved to Real Madrid where he was surplus to requirements and is now back with them on loan, along with Mario Gotze who has signed for Bundesliga champions and their most bitter rivals Bayern Munich and this summer’s subject of saga is striker Robert Lewandowski who appears to be engineering a move to follow Gotze to the Allianz Arena.
Certainly Sahin (who even had a brief and unfruitful spell in the Premier League on loan with Liverpool) regretted his decision to lave Dortmund and it remains to be seen whether Gotze will but I wonder how Kagawa would have felt watching the Champions League final – I suspect he would have felt a slight pang of regret that he wasn’t there.
Another factor in his decision may have been that Manchester United are extremely popular in Japan (and the Far East, more generally) than any other team in the world and at the time they had the greatest British manager in history, Sir Alex Ferguson.
But, with Ferguson’s retirement, United’s poor early exit from the Champions League, their status as a European elite is in jeopardy – their stronghold over the Premier League will likely also be contested more vigorously in the seasons to come with the return of Jose Mourinho to Chelsea and Manchester City’s £90 million spending spree already this summer with Manuel Pellegrini at the helm.
“For most Japanese people it means more to play for Man United than Dortmund. One year before that Nuri Sahin went because Real Madrid is the biggest club in the world,” explained Klopp.
“If players are patient enough we can develop the team into one of the biggest in the world.”
Nuri Sahin obviously regretted his decision to move to a ‘bigger club’ and now, if Kagawa’s comments to TV Tokyo are anything to go by, he too is longing for a return.
"Yes, one day I will (return to Dortmund). If Dortmund are ok with it,” he said and of United he explained:
"The club has a long history and it was great that I could play in Sir Alex Ferguson's last season.”
image: © Marcel Sigg