Under heavy pressure, the Japanese playmaker overcame his slump against the Bavarians and proved on the big stage that he is ready to move to the Premier League
By Clark Whitney | German Football Editor
Saturday marked an historic moment in the history of Borussia Dortmund. For the first time, the Ruhr side claimed the Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal titles in one season. It was a remarkable achievement, made all the sweeter by the emphatic manner in which it was completed.
A week ago, BVB celebrated the Bundesliga title with a record 81 points. And on Saturday, Jurgen Klopp's side hammered Bayern Munich 5-2 in the German Cup final. The result marked the fifth consecutive win for Dortmund against the German record champions.
The result also marked a milestone for Shinji Kagawa, who for the first time in his career shone against top opposition. It could not have come at a better time, with Sir Alex Ferguson watching from the stands.
|KAGAWA VS BAYERN
In spite of all his dominance on the domestic stage, there have been concerns over Kagawa's ability to perform against top opposition. And with good reason: in the Champions League, he was a complete flop, scoring just once and giving no assists in six games. In the previous wins against Bayern, the Japan international was always among the least impressive players in the BVB ranks. Having played in three games, his only direct contribution to a goal was a single assist.
But in the Pokal final on Saturday, Kagawa turned over a new leaf. He was not man of the match - that accolade fell to hat-trick hero Robert Lewandowski - but again and again, the Dortmund attack had the ex-Cerezo Osaka man's signature. Just three minutes into the match, he set a record for fastest goal in Pokal final history, beginning a memorable night.
After Arjen Robben and Mats Hummels traded penalty kicks, Kagawa played a clever return pass to Lewandowski, who slipped home Dortmund's third. Shortly thereafter, the playmaker led a fast break, picking out Kevin Grosskreutz, who assisted Lewandowski's second goal, essentially putting the result to rest. With nine minutes left to play, Kagawa was withdrawn to thunderous applause.
After the game, Kagawa admitted he knew that Sir Alex was watching him, and under heavy pressure, he delivered. One game is not a trend, but it is quite possible that the 23-year-old took the next step in his young career on Saturday.
Most notably, Dortmund versus Bayern had a very Premier League-like feel about it. Breaking from the Bundesliga's usual theme of tight midfield battles and short, quick passing along the ground, the Pokal final was end-to-end, and very open. Especially when Bayern went behind for a second time, space opened between the lines, and Dortmund used Lewandowski's athleticism to their advantage as they often would simply hoof the ball ahead to the striker.
As a support man, Kagawa thrived in the open game, and showed the full range of his qualities. He always knew where to be, and had an almost telepathic connection with Lewandowski. His finish for the opener was flawless, and while his pass to assist the Poland international's first goal was what turned heads, Kagawa's intelligence to anticipate his team-mate's clever back-header should not be ignored.
After the game, Kagawa was coy on his future, neither confirming his imminent departure nor pledging his future to BVB. He has been heavily linked with a move to Manchester United, which would fulfil a lifelong dream and come with twice the wages Dortmund are offering him to extend. And with Sir Alex having personally attended Saturday's match, it appears that the player's decision is made. If it indeed was a farewell, Kagawa could not have hoped for better.
Follow Clark Whitney on