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Kagawa ready to rise to challenge as United career begins

by Andrew Mckirdy

Shinji Kagawa made a positive first impression at his unveiling as a Manchester United player last week, but the forward will be keen to replace words with action when he makes his debut for the Premier League giants.

Kagawa gave an assured performance in front of the cameras at Old Trafford, vowing to handle the pressure that comes with playing for one of the world’s biggest clubs and acknowledging the need to adapt to a new league and culture.

But it is on the pitch where Kagawa will do his talking, and although the 23-year-old’s arrival in Manchester has generated much excitement, there is also skepticism in some quarters which a strong start to his United career would help to alleviate.

The notion that Kagawa, as an Asian player, has been signed for purely commercial reasons has inevitably reared its head, but thankfully such outdated misconceptions have been drowned out by a louder recognition of his talent.

A more legitimate concern among fans, however, is that Kagawa’s move provides further evidence of United’s reduced clout in the transfer market. Supporters are looking for serious investment after losing the title to big-spending Manchester City last season, and those hoping for a high-profile glamor signing cannot help but feel underwhelmed by Kagawa’s arrival.

It is, therefore, up to the player to prove that he belongs. Kagawa certainly has the ability to succeed, and nothing in his career so far — including a national team debut at 19, the disappointment of missing out on Japan’s 2010 World Cup squad, and a move from the tranquility of Cerezo Osaka to the bear pit of Borussia Dortmund — seems to have fazed him.

Playing for Manchester United is clearly a different level, however, and better players than Kagawa have failed to make an impact at Old Trafford. Pulling the creative strings for one of the world’s elite teams is a huge responsibility, and there is no guarantee that he will be able to rise to the occasion.

But Kagawa would not be at United if the club did not believe in him, and there could hardly be a better judge of talent than manager Alex Ferguson. The Scotsman is not one to turn his back on new signings the minute they run into difficulties, and his pursuit of Kagawa was clearly not with a place on the substitutes’ bench in mind.

Instead Kagawa will be expected to reprise the playmaking role he performed so well at Dortmund, shaping the bullets for Wayne Rooney to fire while weighing in with plenty of goals of his own. The quality of his new teammates can only help him improve his own game, and the pace of the Premier League should be a perfect fit for his energy, creativity and devastating movement.

Kagawa will also have to settle off the pitch, and Ferguson was eager to stress the importance of learning the language as quickly as possible.

But all that will happen in good time. First there is the occasion of Kagawa’s United debut to savor, and with no Japanese player having ever pulled on the famous red shirt before, it is a moment the entire nation can be proud of.

For all of Japanese soccer, a new chapter is beginning.