Could Rooney’s departure mean Manchester United see the best of Shinji Kagawa?
I’ll start with a quote from Borussia Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp, “Shinji Kagawa is one of the best players in the world and he now plays 20 minutes at Manchester United – on the left wing” “My heart breaks. Really, I have tears in my eyes.” These emotive words for Jurgen Klopp certainly fit into the confines of his charismatic personality however they are not too far from the truth.
Shinji Kagawa has struggled to make a real impact on the Manchester United team on a regular basis this season although injuries have played a sizeable role in that, the Japanese international’s favoured position is without doubt just behind the forwards in the ‘false nine’ mould set by Lionel Messi and David Silva of Barcelona and Manchester City respectively however Kagawa has found himself unable to play there on a regular basis due to the struggle to fit Wayne Rooney into the starting line-up. With the recent rumours of Wayne Rooney’s potential Old Trafford exit picking up speed over the past week there may well be far more positives to Rooney leaving the club than negatives, with Shinji Kagawa being able to play in his preferred position being one of them.
Kagawa began the season impressively well with his performance against Everton in the season opener particularly catching the eye with the former Dortmund man being centric to anything Manchester United attempted to create in the attacking third, in this game Kagawa was playing in his favoured ‘false nine’ position just behind Wayne Rooney who was in the centre forward role due to new signing Robin Van Persie’s lack of fitness and it looked as if Manchester United had finally filled one of the few areas where Manchester City were considered better in the previous campaign. Kagawa’s early season form led to former Manchester United right back Gary Neville to vehemently praise the player and the improvement his signing had made to the dynamic of the Manchester United team however then came Robin Van Persie who inadvertently created a problem called Wayne Rooney.
Robin Van Persie was an instant hit with the Old Trafford faithful, his wondrous strike against Fulham on his home debut set the tone for the rest of the Dutchman’s debut season with the Champions and Sir Alex Ferguson had a new focal point for his attack. This left Wayne Rooney unable to play in his preferred centre forward position as often as he would like with United’s number ten being forced to drop deeper into the number ten position which Kagawa should have occupied, instead Kagawa was forced to play on the left wing or switch to the right hand side should the game situation require him to do so which did not utilise the majority of his talents.
Make no mistake however Kagawa still impressed on the wing with a hat trick against Norwich at Old Trafford being ultimately the highlight of his season from his own personal perspective however it was all too inconsistent. Kagawa was never really given the chance to play himself into a rhythm as a result of all the changes to his position and being left out of the starting line-up on a regular basis, a prime example of this was in the first leg of Manchester United’s European Cup first knockout round tie with Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, where Kagawa was positioned on the left hand side and asked to play a more disciplined, tactical game to help his team secure a result. Kagawa’s job was not to play in an attacking manner but to use his energy and pace to help Patrice Evra on the left hand side of the defence with Madrid having three supremely talented attacking players all capable of giving Evra problems when switching to the left in the forms of Mesut Ozil, Angel Di Maria and the enigmatic figure of Cristiano Ronaldo. Kagawa struggled in this game with the Japanese international being exposed as having little defensive nous and why should he? If a player was bought as an attacking link man between the midfield and the strikers he shouldn’t have to play in a position he isn’t comfortable with in such an important game but I digress, fast forward from Kagawa’s impressive display against Everton whilst playing in the ‘false nine’ role to the final game of the season against West Bromwich Albion when Kagawa once again played in his preferred role.
With Sir Alex Ferguson confirming Wayne Rooney’s desire to leave the club coupled with the impending birth of the former Everton man’s second child it was an easy decision for Wayne Rooney to take no part in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final game in football. Kagawa took his place and performed fantastically well with everything that United did impressively going forward coming through Kagawa. He showed an exquisite eye for a pass splitting the West Bromwich defence often and was given the freedom to spend time on the ball and run at defenders in the most dangerous of areas, just like in the season opener against Everton. This was a Shinji Kagawa that Manchester United fans had seen too little of during the course of the season just completed and it is imperative that Kagawa is given much more playing time in his favoured position by David Moyes next season if United fans are to see the best of last summer’s acquisition and if Wayne Rooney is to leave the club then this is far more likely to occur.
With Rooney potentially out of the picture Kagawa would have the freedom to play in the link position just behind the forwards on a much more regular basis with the manager not having to desperately scramble to fit Wayne Rooney into the team which near the end Sir Alex Ferguson was not prepared to do if it wasn’t for the good of the team, as we saw against Real Madrid at Old Trafford when Rooney was, and rightfully so, left out of the starting line-up for the second leg. The best case scenario would be for Wayne Rooney to accept he is no longer the main man in the forward line and put in a concerted effort to rounding his game in order to allow himself to drop even further into the heart of Manchester United’s midfield, which those who have watched Wayne Rooney develop over the past half decade know he is more than capable of.
However Rooney doesn’t appear to be willing to do this and as a result may find himself forced to move to accommodate both Shinji Kagawa and any other potentially new signings this summer, which would be for Wayne Rooney and a large majority of fans a real shame albeit a real shame that could prove to be better for Manchester United.
Written by Chris Winterburn
@Chriswin4 on Twitter