When the 24-year-old Japan international signed from Borussia Dortmund in 2012 he was hailed as one of the most gifted playmaker’s on the continent – in his last Bundesliga season, the attacking midfielder scored 17 goals and made 14 assists in all competitions for the German giants.
Sir Alex Ferguson had been criticised by Dortmund manager Jürgen Klopp in Kagawa’s debut season at United for playing him out of his natural and preferred position and ‘wasting’ the player’s talent.
Little has changed since the arrival of David Moyes this season in charge at Old Trafford – in fact, if anything, Kagawa’s form and confidence has seemed to plateau at an all-time low. He has rarely won opportunities in big games this term with the Premier League champions and with the arrival of Juan Mata one would expect the chances he has to decrease in number and frequency.
His agent, Thomas Kroth has insisted he will remain at Old Trafford this week:
"At this moment I am sure Shinji will stay. There has been no contact and so it is just rumours," he told Sky Sports.
When asked if Mata's arrival would have an impact, Kroth responded: "No, it is my opinion that he will stay."
Despite what the player’s agent has stated, the player himself has stated on many occasions since his arrival in England that he is not happy – although this has tended to be in relation to his own performance level and form but with the World Cup in less than six months, Kagawa will surely have concerns over his access to regular first team football.
He and Juan Mata are cut from a similar cloth in terms of their strengths and style of play – both are slight of build, highly gifted technical players with superb footwork, intelligent movement and vision. Both are considered passers of the ball and goal makers more than goal scorers but Kagawa has yet to fully convince in the Premier League that he is capable of that number ten role. That is aptly demonstrated that both Moyes and Ferguson before him have deployed Wayne Rooney as an attacking midfielder, the creative nucleus, where possible ahead of the Japanese.
I would suspect, despite his agent’s assertions to the contrary, that Kagawa will be concerned over his future at Manchester United and probably, in the long-run be considering a move away from Old Trafford where, for the most part, it hasn’t worked out for him as well as he’d have hoped and, in the short-term, the arrival of Juan Mata is more likely to exacerbate that than it is to help, unless, of course he sees the Spaniard’s arrival as a challenge to rise to the expectations that were so high when he arrived 18 months ago.
image: © Marcel Sigg