Shinji Kagawa: Over-hyped or under-appreciated?
Senior reporter Michael Church had Kagawa at No.10 in his personal contribution to FourFourTwo's Asia 50 list, the highest of all our correspondents this year.
What were his reasons for that? Here are his arguments in the affirmative for the Borussia Dortmund regular.
SHINJI KAGAWA – THE PROS
For all the ammunition he provides, Kagawa regularly starts on a team with one of the finest records in Europe this season
It’s easy to underestimate the abilities of Shinji Kagawa: the Japanese international midfielder has made life for his detractors simple since ending his first stint with Borussia Dortmund and entering a slump that had the potential to be career defining.
With his confidence shattered by David Moyes at Old Trafford, Kagawa has often lacked the vim, vigour and decisiveness that so embodied his performances in the Bundesliga after joining Dortmund from Cerezo Osaka in mid-2010.
An injury-racked first season with Manchester United was followed by a disastrous second year that left his stock plummeting and there have been any number of inept displays for Japan, culminating in a predictable miss in the quarter-final shootout loss to the United Arab Emirates at the Asian Cup last January.
His return to Dortmund was less than convincing in his first season back in Germany and yet, for all the ammunition he has provided those who want to denigrate him as a flash-in-the-pan, Kagawa regularly starts on a team that has one of the finest records in European football this season.
“Kagawa is getting better and better, but he’s not showing those fine performances like in 2011-12,” says Martin Gruener, a journalist for renowned German magazine Kicker.
“Dortmund at this time is the best second-placed team in German history and they’re quite unlucky to have such a strong Bayern Munich ahead of them.
He would be a star at most other teams, but Dortmund and Bayern are special at the moment
“(Kagawa) is more the guy for counter-attack football with his quick moves, but Dortmund changed its style after Jurgen Klopp left and they’re now playing a ball possession game.
“Thomas Tuchel left him out of the squad at the beginning of February saying ‘he’s not at 100 per cent’. Now Kagawa is back in the team but he could not really convince. In Dortmund’s offence he’s the weak point.
“But please do not misunderstand: He would be a star at most other teams, but Dortmund and Bayern are special at the moment.”
And that final line is the real kicker, because how many Asian players can currently claim to be playing in a team that has amassed a club record number of points, is pushing one of Europe’s genuine giants all the way and has appeared in the quarter-finals of the Europa League?
Despite claims in some circles that he continues to struggle, Kagawa has scored eight times from an attacking midfield position so far this season, having started 28 games in all competitions and made nine substitute appearances.
By contrast Yoshinori Muto, the new golden boy of Japanese football, has started just 18 games for Mainz and scored seven goals.
Son Heung-min has been named 19 times in the Tottenham Hotspur line-up so far this season. Both players, however, would be more highly rated by many observers.
Kagawa’s stunning, cunning recent goal against Schalke (see clip below) highlighted not only that his quality remains, but that his confidence is returning.
He may no longer be Asia’s No. 1, but Shinji Kagawa is a long way from being washed up.