Tuesday Team Talk: Slow start, but Shinji Kagawa can dominate Manchester United’s midfield for years

By Paddy von Behr

It took some time for Manchester United’s latest import to put on a show, but Shinji Kagawa has arrived in the Premier League – and he’s only going to get better.

Norwich’s visit to Old Trafford on Saturday was an occasion to remember for the Japanese midfielder – a classy hat-trick and man-of-the-match performance to go with it.

And it showed – albeit later than fans hoped – exactly how important Kagawa could prove to be for the Premier League leaders.

In the age of the playmaker, the likes of Juan Mata, Santi Cazorla and David Silva are highly sought-after assets.

If those three are the top-tier of Premier League creators, Kagawa is set to increase the group’s population to four – and he’ll do it as soon as next season.

On Saturday he became the first Asian player to score a Premier League hat-trick and, with three months to further integrate, the Japanese international will return next year a dominant force.

To reach that conclusion on one performance may appear presumptuous, but there is more to the midfielder which suggests he can graduate to world-class status.

Sir Alex Ferguson, who shelled out £17 million for the 23-year-old last summer, is already licking his lips at the player Kagawa can become.

“He’s going to be a good player,” Ferguson told Sky Sports following Saturday’s win. “Next year he’ll be far, far better too.”

Another manager with plenty of good things to say about the Japanese international is Borussia Dortmund boss Jurgen Klopp.

The German gaffer has been in charge at Dortmund since 2008 and led them to an historic double last season, with Kagawa heavily involved in the success.

He also oversaw the midfielder’s arrival at the German club from Japanese outfit Cerezo Osaka in 2010 – for the bargain price of just €350,000.

In the summer Klopp was sad to see the back of his playmaker – who scored 21 times in 49 games – and since backed him to go on to great things at United.

“Shinji is one of the best players that I have had a chance to work with,” he said last month.

“Watching him play now I feel that he still isn’t the old Shinji.

“The stability in his play hasn’t returned and I can’t see the confidence that he had when he was here.

“But because he possesses outstanding ability, he’ll be able to have an impact anywhere in the world.”

Following Dortmund’s double-winning campaign, the squad only lost one key player – Kagawa.

Fast-forward nine months and Klopp’s side are 17 points adrift of Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich.

For the wealth of talent the German champions possess – Marco Reus, Mario Gotze, Robert Lewandowski – the Japanese playmaker is proving a damning loss.

Kagawa is still a youngster – Mata, Cazorla and Silva are all his senior – and maturity is perhaps the most valuable asset a playmaker can possess.

We should expect a creator in his mould to continue improving for years to come and peak as he approaches 30.

The worrying reality for others is that the 23-year-old is yet to hit his stride in a red shirt, yet Ferguson’s side are furlongs clear of their nearest Premier League rivals.

With Robin van Persie as lethal as ever and Kagawa pulling the strings, Manchester City’s task of chasing the Red Devils is not going to get any easier.

In fact, if Roberto Mancini once again fails to use the summer effectively, Kagawa could be the difference that sees United assert ‘Invincibles’-like dominance in English football.

Image courtesy of mncomps via YouTube, with thanks.

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