Manchester United players were seeking refuge and relief in the World Cup as their hopeless season dragged on, Japanese international Shinji Kagawa said on Saturday.
The Brazil-bound midfielder said the troops at Old Trafford couldn’t wait for the June 12-July 13 tournament to begin with United’s campaign being sucked into a downward spiral that led to the dismissal of manager David Moyes.
United, Premier League champion the previous season under Alex Ferguson, finished seventh on the table, missing out on both the Champions and Europa Leagues. The Red Devils ended up 22 points behind new champion and crosstown rival Manchester City.
“Towards the end, everyone was just getting ready for the World Cup,” Kagawa said, looking back on a season in which he didn’t score a single goal. “That’s where everyone’s heart was by then. We were all trying to look forward.”
Kagawa, who is heading to his first World Cup, said his United teammates believed Alberto Zaccheroni’s side would qualify for the second round from a group including Cote d’Ivoire, Greece and Colombia.
Yet the former Dortmund man feels the Asian champion still has a lot to prove this summer.
“The boys were telling me Ivory Coast and Colombia are strong teams, but we have every chance of getting out of the group,” said Kagawa, a reserve at the 2010 World Cup.
“I don’t think they know Japan in detail, though. The players most people in the world know are still Keisuke (Honda) and Yuto (Nagatomo). To show the world we are a good team, we need results at the World Cup.”
“If we do well at the World Cup, everyone will take notice and it will pave the way to the big clubs for more Japanese players. I think soon, you’ll see players make the direct jump from the J. League to the big teams in Europe.”
“But for any of that to happen, we’ve got to show we are a good side at the World Cup. I’ve been working hard for the last four years for this. In South Africa when we were winning, I wasn’t really happy about it because I wasn’t on the pitch. It pained me to watch.”
Kagawa spoke after a morning training session with several of Japan’s Europe-based players, including defenders Maya Yoshida and Atsuto Uchida who are working their way back from injury.
Both Yoshida of Southampton and Uchida of Schalke stressed they will be fully fit by the time the World Cup rolls around.
“My leg is fine,” Yoshida said. “What I need to worry about is getting used to the heat. I’ve stuck to my rehab program all along and if I had an ounce of concern, I wouldn’t have stayed at Southampton to do my recovery work. There are no problems whatsoever.”