Shinji Kagawa’s debut season at Manchester United was a quiet one, but if luck goes his way the forward can play a major role for the Premier League champions next term.
Kagawa scored the opening goal in United’s 5-5 draw with West Bromwich Albion on Sunday, wrapping up a season in which the 24-year-old showed flashes of his talent without ever really catching fire. A superbly taken hat trick in March’s 4-0 win over Norwich City will live long in the memory, but having spent the majority of the campaign either injured, on the bench or played out of position, Kagawa will be keen to show what he can really do next season.
Outgoing manager Alex Ferguson has always maintained that the player he signed from Borussia Dortmund last summer would improve over time, and the Scot’s comments after last month’s 2-2 draw with West Ham were a telling indication of how he sees Kagawa’s United career developing.
“I think Shinji is doing very well for us now,” said Ferguson. “He has fantastic composure and always seems to pick the more sensible pass. He was terrific for the first goal, showing the composure to take the player on in a tight area and roll the ball in to Antonio Valencia.”
Kagawa has had little opportunity so far to reprise the central playmaking role in which he made his name with Dortmund, but Ferguson clearly believes he has the technical ability and clarity of vision to make the No. 10 position his own.
The seismic impact of Ferguson’s retirement, however, casts a sizeable shadow over Old Trafford going into the summer. The appointment of successor David Moyes was designed with continuity in mind, but in truth it is impossible to say how the former Everton manager will fare, or if indeed he rates Kagawa as highly as Ferguson does.
That uncertainty extends to the future of Kagawa’s fellow forward, Wayne Rooney. The 27-year-old’s unhappiness with his place in Ferguson’s pecking order prompted him to seek a transfer, but if Moyes decides to talk his former protege round with promises of building his attack around him, Kagawa could find himself on the outside looking in.
Such doubts are inevitable given the monumental nature of Ferguson’s retirement, but Kagawa has no need to fear for his future just yet. Moyes is a shrewd tactician who knows a good player when he sees one, and with a lack of Champions League experience the main question mark hanging over his appointment, the new man is unlikely to ignore the one player in his squad who looks best-suited to the European game.
“The difference between German and English football is that in Germany you can’t foul,” Ferguson said of Kagawa in February. “You are not allowed to touch anyone in Germany, so he has come from that environment to the Premier League, which is totally different. There is a physicality to our game which is different from Germany, but next year he’ll be better.”
The irony that Dortmund is currently preparing for Saturday night’s Champions League final while United bowed out in the second round is unlikely to be lost on Kagawa, but that does not mean he will regret making the switch.
Next season, his decision could well pay off in spades.