Manchester United’s pursuit of Cesc Fabregas never really looked like succeeding. Having finally torn himself away from Arsenal in 2011, he was never going to leave his boyhood club after just two competent, if unspectacular, seasons.
David Moyes, who is chomping at the bit to prove he can attract a marquee signing to Old Trafford this summer, has already walked down a cul-de-sac in his quest for the former Arsenal captain, and looks set to be rejected again by Luka Modric.
But Moyes needs to realise that he doesn’t need Fabregas or Modric. As fine a signing as each would be, United already possess one of the world’s best playmakers: Shinji Kagawa. He may not be the sexy name United fans crave, but the Japanese international just needs a proper run in the heart of the team to prove his enormous quality.
In a superb interview with the Guardian before this season’s Champions League final, Borussia Dortmund coach Jürgen Klopp said he cannot bear watching Kagawa play for United.
“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,” Klopp admitted. “Really, I have tears in my eyes. Central midfield is Shinji's best role. He's an offensive midfielder with one of the best noses for goal I’ve ever seen.”
Moyes has the opportunity to make Kagawa the creative hub of this United side. That means forgetting Fabregas and Modric for now and allowing Kagawa to hit the dazzling heights he did with Dortmund. Kagawa was held back by injury last season but, at full fitness, he has all the class of Fabregas and all the panache of Modric.
A brilliant playmaker, Kagawa would thrive in permanent partnership with Michael Carrick in the United midfield. Carrick would be the perfect foil for Kagawa to unpick defences with his range of passing and eye for goal. He did that so well at Dortmund, but his impact at Signal Iduna Park wasn’t immediate either.
A broken foot held Kagawa back in the early stages of the 2011-12 season and he didn’t find his form until October, when Klopp reinstated him to the side after a two-game absence. The coach tweaked his tactics, too, giving Kagawa an attacking role in a central position – and the Japanese international responded with a goal after seven minutes in his comeback game against Cologne. Injury ruled Mario Götze out for much of the second half of the season and Kagawa, on whom full creative duty now rested, revelled in the role.
Kagawa proved at Dortmund that he was a man for the big occasion and produced a string of dazzling displays that eventually attracted United. He notched up a total of 13 goals and 11 assists in the Bundesliga that campaign and inspired BVB to a resounding 5-2 win over Bayern Munich in the final of the DFB-Pokal Cup, with the opening goal after three minutes and a crucial assist for Robert Lewandowski, with whom he built an almost telepathic understanding.
One can only wonder whether Kagawa would have made all the difference in Götze’s absence in BVB's narrow Champions League final defeat in May. And Klopp certainly would have welcomed him back, with the coach admitting only this week that he has attempted to re-sign the 24-year-old.
Sure, United didn’t see the best of Kagawa in a debut season disrupted by niggling injuries, but there is a world class player in there waiting to be unlocked if Moyes can do what Klopp did, and play him in his rightful role. United fans and former players talk frantically about the need to “find the new Paul Scholes”, but perhaps it’s time they started looking a little closer to home.
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