After an encouraging debut season in the Premier League with Manchester United, Shinji Kagawa has an important year of progression and consolidation ahead of him. How will incoming boss David Moyes affect the player’s development and get the best out of the Japanese midfielder?
Any new manager arriving at any club will likely have a myriad of problems to deal with, situations to resolve and decisions to make.
When the club is Manchester United and when the man you’re replacing is the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson, you can be well aware that the world will scrutinise your answers, responses and actions.
Moyes’s opening press conference, however, was an excellent introduction for the United fans and the international media.
Per Jamie Jackson of The Guardian, Moyes’s response to the issue of Rooney was unequivocal in one aspect, as the boss suggested he was not intending to sell the forward. But the Scot could not confirm “categorically” that the striker was keen to stick around at the club.
One of the most intriguing questions abounding at the club now concerns its Japanese starlet, Kagawa. After a commendable debut year in the EPL, it will be fascinating to see how Moyes approaches the prospect of the midfielder and how he attempts to get the best out of a potentially devastating talent.
Initial impressions suggest that Kagawa is keen to make a good impression on the new man. Realising the scope for change that accompanies a change in a club’s management, he has cut short his holiday in order to impress Moyes.
Instead of profiting from the leave afforded him by the club, Kagawa will join United during their lucrative preseason tour of Japan—a trip in which he is likely to be one of the star attractions.
The decision will doubtless go down well with Moyes, as it shows a genuine willingness on the player’s part to make the most of the opportunity afforded him in Manchester.
The onus now falls on the manager to make the most of a talent that has sparkled intermittently over the last 12 months. Moyes will have to decide how best to use the Japanese magician.
Kagawa’s former boss, Jurgen Klopp, who managed the youngster’s rise to stardom at previous club Borussia Dortmund, was open in criticising Sir Alex Ferguson’s utilisation of the player last term.
Klopp, speaking to Donald McRae of The Guardian, expressed bafflement at the way that Kagawa had been used both sparingly and seemingly out of position.
The manager’s words encapsulate two key issues that Moyes will have to make a decision on: "Shinji Kagawa is one of the best players in the world and he now plays 20 minutes at Manchester United—on the left wing."
How often should Moyes use Kagawa next year? Is the player ready to step into a central role for the club, or is his immediate destiny to continue as an impact substitute?
Secondly, where should the midfielder play? Does he serve United best from a wide left berth—where he performs so effectively? Or, as Klopp suggests, is his effectiveness from a central position—his eye for goal—too irresistible to ignore?
It’s easy to forget that the Japanese midfielder scored 21 goals in 49 games during his two years in the Bundesliga, a remarkable return.
Klopp’s point that Kagawa was used sparingly may have been down to necessity almost as much as preference. While the midfielder never matched to put a run of form together to truly demonstrate his tremendous ability, he did struggle with injury—a knee problem picked up in October surely undermined his impressive start to life at United.
While this explains, to some extent, why he had trouble ensuring a first-team berth for himself, there is room for improvement here. Over 20 appearances in the league, he completed 90 minutes on only five occasions. In 60 percent of his appearances he was subbed off, and in a further 15 percent he made his entrance from among the substitutes.
Interestingly, the suggestion that Rooney might be sticking around at United could spell bad news for Kagawa. Sir Alex Ferguson’s preference for playing ‘Wazza’ just behind Robin Van Persie often left no place for the Japanese offensive midfielder in the lineup.
In order to bypass this immediate problem, Moyes would need to re-employ Rooney as a forward, take the seemingly inevitable step of pushing the former Everton prodigy into a deeper midfield role—perhaps countering the loss of Paul Scholes, or shunting him out to the flanks, something Ferguson opted to do on occasion.
As recognised by Bleacher Report’s Max Towle, Moyes has an interesting relationship with offensive midfielders. Perhaps due to personal preference, the restraints of the club’s fiscal profile or the unpredictability that surrounds the role, Moyes rarely invested in intricate, creative attacking midfielders.
Instead, bullish midfielders such as Marouane Fellaini and formerly Tim Cahill have been used to offer a physical threat rather than guile and finesse.
In this sense, it may be that Rooney, rather than Kagawa, is Moyes’s preference in this role. The Englishman offers a physical presence perhaps not yet evident in his teammate.
However, Moyes’s attempts to get the best out of Steven Pienaar, Mikel Arteta, Leon Osman and Darron Gibson at Everton betray a penchant for a creative, passing game. Arriving at Manchester United, with a higher calibre squad, Moyes will have all of the raw materials to perfect a quick passing game.
If Moyes chooses to go down this route, then Kagawa will be crucial. The player can link midfield and attack well, and he understands the virtues of keeping the ball on the deck and using it creatively. Perhaps the Scot will relish the opportunity to dispense with a battering ram of an offensive midfielder and will embrace the prospect of the silky Kagawa with open arms.
Last season, Kagawa was often forced into a wide role due to the failings of United’s existing wingers. Nani, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young all endured disappointing campaigns, and thus Danny Welbeck (nominally a forward but effective out wide) and Kagawa were pushed into wide berths.
Moyes has long demonstrated a preference for establishing his flanks as effective and often devastating offensive weapons. Last season Everton’s combination of Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar offered one of the slickest wings in English football. It will surely be something Moyes is looking to recreate at United.
He will relish the prospect of forging relationships between full-backs Rafael and Patrice Evra and his wingers, and he will surely be excited at the opportunity to work with a prodigal young wide player in Wilfried Zaha.
If he can sort out his wings and reinvigorate one or two out of Young, Nani and Valencia, then there will no longer be any need to play Kagawa out wide. If Moyes can refine some of United’s failings in other areas of the team, then the central positions are likely to fall into place.
There is no doubt that Shinji Kagawa has the ability to be a genuine player at a major club like Manchester United. There may be some truth in the suggestion that—with Rooney still present—he is the right player at the wrong time, but if Moyes sees his value and decides to employ him in a central role, expect great things.