Two of the Premier League’s most gifted players have recently been ousted from favour at their clubs.
Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa arrived last summer from Borussia Dortmund where he was hailed as one of the most gifted playmakers of his generation on the continent. The 24-year-old Japan international scored 17 goals and made 14 assists for Dortmund who were crowned Bundesliga champions in his final term.
Kagawa made his way to Old Trafford for a fee rising to around £17 million but in his debut season he in England he struggled with both form and fitness in what turned out to be Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season with the Red Devils.
Kagawa was something of a peripheral figure in United’s title-winning campaign last term – he made just 17 league starts for Ferguson, managed 6 goals and 4 assists and so far this term, with the arrival of David Moyes to replace his retired countryman, Kagawa has yet to feature at all.
He is likely to be involved for the first time this evening as United take on Liverpool in the League Cup at Old Trafford but Kagawa sat on the bench for the duration of United’s disastrous 4-1 defeat in the Manchester derby last weekend, despite Moyes having two substitutes left to use in the game.
Prior to the derby defeat, Kagawa had not featured at all in the squad that faced Crystal Palace or Liverpool at Anfield in the league. He came on in the 71st minute in United’s Champions League opener against Bayer Leverkusen but the Red Devils were already out of sight against the German’s and well on their way to the 4-2 victory.
Kagawa pleaded with the boss via the press whilst away on international duty with Japan but the Scot has yet to pay lip service to the attacker’s plea for access to the first team.
Meanwhile, much the same situation has unfolded at Stamford Bridge this term between boss Jose Mourinho and playmaker Juan Mata who made his first start for the Blues in Tuesday night’s comprehensive 2-0 League Cup victory over Swindon.
The 25-year-old Spaniard has been a peripheral figure and his manager came out publicly following the game asserting that Mata must ‘adapt’ his game in order to earn his inclusion in the team.
Despite two defeats from their last five fixtures, Mata was brought on late as a second half substitute in Premier League games against Everton and Aston Villa this month. He was not included in the squad that beat Fulham last weekend and he watched games against Manchester United and Hull from the substitutes bench.
Mata had been Chelsea’s best performer last term under Roberto Di Matteo and then Rafael Benitez – he featured for Chelsea no less than 63 times, scored 19 goals and made an astonishing 35 assists across all competitions – he was the leading goal-maker in the English top tier last term but so far this season, he’s barely made it onto the pitch and recorded his only assist of the season so far in Tuesday’s League Cup win.
Mata arrived at Stamford Bridge the summer prior to Kagawa’s arrival at Old Trafford, for a fee of £23.5 million and his impact for the team and the club has been worth every penny – his inclusion at international level for Spain has also improved and increased but with the World Cup in Brazil next summer, his place in the Spain team may not be so secure.
If Moyes isn’t all that keen on Kagawa and Mourinho feels the same about Mata, perhaps the two bosses would consider a swap deal – the players would likely take an opportunity like that, in light of the upcoming World Cup. Players of their calibre want to play football and get access to regular starts. They do not want to train al week for nothing.
They are two very similar players who function in very similar roles in their teams, yet neither of them is being appreciated or granted opportunities to play at their clubs – perhaps a change of scenery would do them both the world of good.
image: © Ben Sutherland