The sky is the limit for transfer target Shinji Kagawa

by Sam Peoples

Kagawa got his hands on the double this season with Dortmund. Here he holds the DFB Cup. Photo: Ina Fassbender (Reuters)

Manchester United have been heavily linked with a move for Dortmund playmaker Shinji Kagawa this summer. With only one year left on his contract, the 23-year-old Japanese star is confirmed to be leaving the German outfit but with a €20 million price tag on his head, is he worth the money?

Clark Whitney, German football editor at Goal international, is well placed to discuss it. An expert on the Bundesliga, Clark has watched Kagawa since he arrived at Borussia Dortmund and seen his rise into the first team over the past two seasons.

Dortmund owner Hans-Joachim Watzke has put a price of €20 million for him to leave Dortmund this summer. Does he deserve to command such a price tag?

In a word, yes, but the €20m probably means that Dortmund won’t sell for anything under €15m. The only way that Borussia Dortmund will get the full price is if there is a bidding war, which is entirely possible.
How much has he improved since joining Borussia Dortmund?
Kagawa joined Borussia Dortmund as a prospect intended to become a squad player within a couple years. Their big signing in 2010 was Robert Lewandowski, who cost more than 10 times Kagawa’s price. Of course, it turned out that Kagawa impressed upon arrival and quickly earned a permanent place in the starting XI.

A foot injury halted Kagawa’s progress last January, and he had a rough start to 2011-12. However, after the winter break he was one of Dortmund’s best players – he started to score again, but it was his play as a set-up man that was vastly improved.

It should be noted that Kagawa failed to make any impact for Dortmund in the Champions League. It is possibly fair to say that he matured later in the season, culminating in his virtuoso performance in Dortmund’s 5-2 hammering of Bayern earlier this month, in which he scored a goal and set two others up.

What are his greatest assets as an individual?

Kagawa, first and foremost, is a very intelligent player. He is not only capable of doing great things with the ball at his feet, but makes the right runs and passes with remarkable efficiency. However, his most obvious qualities are his technique, dribbling and precision in ball-playing. They are all top drawer. He also has a fantastic first touch that compliments the rest of his game.

A young, attack minded midfielder who can both score and set up goals? Sounds like the sort of player that Manchester United have been craving for a few seasons. The fact that Paul Scholes had to come out of retirement to fill the gap and bring some creative edge to the team was merely a sign of our struggles.  Anybody can see that our midfield has been worryingly thin for years and last season’s injuries to Anderson, Fletcher and Cleverley only exacerbated the problems.

Kagawa joining the squad would give us a massive boost in that sense. You only have to look at the impact that David Silva had on Manchester City’s title winning football this season to see the influence that a central playmaker can have on the quality of the football played.

Do you think he will fit into the Manchester United team and if so, what sort of position should he play to get the best out of him?

I’m no expert on Manchester United but I can say that he is not a Paul Scholes-esque player. Kagawa is a traditional #10: a playmaker whose technique, creativity, and precision in the pass and shot make him a very dangerous threat in front of goal. He runs hard and has a fantastic work ethic driving forward but is no defensive player, so don’t expect him to track back often. He is capable of playing on the left, but if Ferguson wants to get the best out of him, Kagawa must play as the central playmaker in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-1-2.
He is 23 years of age. How much more do you think he can improve as a player?
The sky is the limit for Kagawa, who will see the Champions League as the next big hurdle for him to tackle. I think he has the potential to shine in the really difficult matches, but as of yet has not made a great account of himself. In fact, in his first four games against Bayern, he only played a hand in one goal. But he was a candidate for man of the match in the Pokal final recently, suggesting he has what it takes to succeed in Europe. The question now is whether he indeed does deliver.
If Kagawa wasn’t to sign for Manchester United, are there any other players from the Bundesliga that you think Sir Alex Ferguson should be looking at?

There are plenty of other players that Ferguson can look at, but none who are both available and already of enough class to play for Manchester United. With due respect to Kagawa, who had a great year, Marco Reus was the Bundesliga’s best player last season. However, he just signed a five-year deal with Dortmund. Mario Götze is another example. He might have had many injuries last season but every respected voice in German football considers him one of the best talents the country has produced. He recently penned an extension to 2016, so he wouldn’t be going anywhere. I personally would consider Toni Kroos a great fit for United but he is a very loyal player and I don’t think he would leave Bayern.

I do think that United have the right hand to play are in currently in pole position to get the signature of Kagawa.

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