Jurgen Klopp, the exuberent Borussia Dortmund manager, said that it broke his heart to see his former charge, Shinji Kagawa, shunted out to the left-wing for Manchester United. He felt Kagawa was far more effective in the hole, as a deep-lying striker. In the number 10 role.
Last night, in an extraordinary, breathless match between Japan and Italy in the Confederations Cup in Recife, Brazil, the United number 26 played on the left of a fluid Japanese formation and he looked like a proper number 10 at times.
Kagawa, along with his trusted lieutenants Honda (not the car) and Endo (not the BMX trick) was outstanding in what was a brave but ultimately futile display from Japan. I lost count of the number of times the commentators mentioned his name in the opening half-hour alone. He was to the fore as Japan dominated, racing into a 2-0 lead by the 33rd minute. And though the first was a rather debatable penalty – Buffon seemed to get to a woefully underhit backpass from the otherwise highly promising young Italy full-back De Sciglio fractionally before the Japanese forward – the second, scored by the ever-dynamic Kagawa, was up there with Neymar’s for watchability in this so-far excellent tournament.
Kagawa said: “For my goal I swivelled and hit it with my left foot. I was in the right place and I was in luck to score.” Which seems a little too modest. His sixpence-turn and immaculately controlled hit into the bottom right corner of Buffon’s goal was poised, picturebook, perfection.
His goal notwithstanding, Kagawa showed other encouraging signs for United fans. He was adventurous, but he was also economical, intelligent with the ball. Always moving, he found space expertly, and he sprayed a couple of Scholes-esque crossfield passes to find teammates in good positions. He also attempted two or three audacious dribbles.
And though he was also responsible for a second half miss which was right up there with his fluffed opportunity against Aston Villa in the 3-0 win which sealed our 20th title – here the miss was more costly as Italy immediately took it up the field and scored the winner in a pulsating tie which ended 4-3 in goals as well as woodwork-hits – his display here was a definite nine out of ten. Shinji might just be the creative influence we sorely need now Paul Scholes has definitely – maybe – retired. For good.
Ex-red Alan Gowling said that he wasn’t alone in the former player fraternity in believing that Shinji may, in time, come to be seen as a better signing than Robin Van Persie. Which seems to rather over-egg the pudding given RVP’s performances last season. But if David Moyes can get the best out of Kagawa – and that doesn’t necesarily mean playing him ‘in the hole’, it just means giving him creative license, as Zaccheroni allowed him for Japan last night – then we might just be onto a good thing.
That Norwich display at Old Trafford might just be the sign of things to come. He’s got an eye for a goal: last night’s lovely finish was his 14th in 44 Japan caps. And he’s still only 24. I’d like to see him given a proper run in the team.
One final comment. We started by talking about Klopp’s Dortmund. Well, hopefully his United career will follow a similar pattern to the one he had at Dortmund. There he got his hands on a league championship winner’s medal in his first season, despite missing a large number of games through injury. (Sound familiar?) And he went on to truly star for them in a glorious second season, playing a major role in Dortmund winning the league and cup double (Kagawa scored at the first in the 5-2 German Cup Final victory against Bayern Munich, under the watchful eye of Sir Alex Ferguson).
Andrew J Kirby is the author of the excellent ‘Fergie’s Finest’ which was released last month. His sports writing has featured in BBC Sport magazine, and on the Radio Five Live website. Follow him on Twitter.