Man United officially confirmed their first major signing of the close season last week, with the capture of Shinji Kagawa from German champions Dortmund on a four-year deal.
The 23-year-old Japanese midfielder arrives for an undisclosed fee that’s rumoured to be anywhere between £12-17m and, having completed a medical and obtained a work permit, will move to Old Trafford when the transfer window opens on July 1.
Sir Alex Ferguson was quick to pay compliment to the new boy, suggesting he will be a crucial part of United’s attempts to wrestle back the title from neighbours City next season:
Shinji is an exciting young midfielder with great skill, vision and a good eye for goal. I am delighted he has chosen to come to United. I believe he will make an impact upon the team very quickly as he is suited to United’s style of play. We are all looking forward to working with him.
As a 17-year-old, Kagawa signed his first professional contract in 2006 with local club Cerezo Osaka. The following year he became an established first-team figure at the club and, over the course of four seasons, demonstrated his goal-getting ability by finding the net 55 times in 125 appearances.
In the summer of 2010, Kagawa joined up at Dortmund in a deal that cost the Bundesliga outfit a mere €350,000, due to a clause in his contract which allow him to move cheaply if the opportunity to play in Europe arose. Kagawa played 18 times in his first season for Jurgen Klopp’s side, scoring eight times and providing one assist, but his game time was cut short due to a metatarsal injury picked up on international duty. Despite missing the second half of the campaign, his performances merited Kagawa a place in the Bundesliga Best XI.
Recovering in time for the start of the 2011/12 campaign, Kagawa was an instrumental figure in Dortmund’s league and cup double. With Mario Gotze sidelined for a good part of the season, Klopp’s side were reliant on the creativity of the Japanese midfielder; over the course of 31 appearances, Kagawa produced 13 goals and eight assists playing in “the hole” in Dortmund’s 4-2-3-1 formation. His final game for Klopp’s side came in the German Cup Final win over Bayern, where Kagawa provided a goal and assist in the 5-2 rout in front of the onlooking Ferguson and, with just 12 months remaining on his contract, United have lessened the blow of losing out on Eden Hazard by snapping up the highly-rated playmaker.
Although he can play on the left flank, Kagawa is best-suited to a role in the middle of the pitch. His trickery and ability to pick out a killer pass from a more advanced central position is an aspect of United’s game that has, arguably, been missing of late. Last season saw them linked with the likes of Wesley Sneijder and Luka Modric – with both moves failing to transpire, Paul Scholes returned from retirement to add a much-needed spark from a deep-lying position in the centre. The new signing has already revealed he has his heart set on replicating the role he excelled in for Dortmund, going on to say:
I want to play (in the hole). I feel like that’s where I play my best football. I plan on working hard so I can win my place at the position. They’re one of the biggest clubs in the world, and I was given a chance to play for them. I took a lot of things into consideration, like the fact that they’ve got a deep squad, their style of football and it wasn’t an easy decision. But I wanted the challenge.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the deal is the effect on United’s shape next season. Ferguson’s default formation last term was, of course, 4-4-2; he only started with a lone forward on just seven of his side’s 38 games but Kagawa’s arrival affords him the chance to vary his approach, with the new boy perhaps tucked in behind Wayne Rooney up front. Certainly, it would seem a lot to ask of Kagawa to field him in central midfield in a 4-4-2 in his first season in the Premier League; standing 5 foot 7, he would need time to adjust to such a role, whereas an advanced slot in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1 will allow him to become more accustomed to the rigours of the Premier League.
If Ferguson opts for an attacking midfield trio of Ashley Young or Nani on the left, Kagawa in the centre and Antonio Valencia on the right behind Rooney, the knock-on effect on the likes of Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez’s game time could be detrimental; they started 23 and 18 times respectively last time out but could suffer further if the manager opts for a reshuffle. At the moment, though, it’s too early to judge; pre-season will offer Fantasy managers plenty clues as to Ferguson’s thinking before their season kicks off at Everton in mid-August.
From a Fantasy Premier League (FPL) perspective, Kagawa may well benefit from the same sort of 8.0 price tag that Valencia was afforded in the previous season, with a cost no more than 9.0 looking likely. It leaves Fantasy managers with a real dilemma when assessing United’s midfield options, though, with so many solid performers already on offer. Kagawa’s dead-ball ability could help sway investment his way and with Nani, Young and Valencia all set to be priced considerably higher, he offers an intriguing attacking route into a side that finished 2011/12 with 89 goals under their belt and will be going all-out in their attempt to reclaim the title from City.