COMMENT: The Japan international moved to Old Trafford with plenty of expectation two years ago, but is set to go back to his old club with his tail between his legs
The last time Shinji Kagawa wore a Borussia Dortmund shirt, he looked like a world beater. Jurgen Klopp’s team thrashed a Bayern Munich side 5-2 to seal DFB-Pokal glory a week before a Champions League final, the Japan international opening the scoring and tearing through the Bavarians’ back line seemingly at will.
Bigger and better things awaited, it seemed. Manchester United came calling that summer and Kagawa moved on. It seemed perfect. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were badly missing a link between midfield and attack that the 23-year-old could provide and help the wrestle back the title.
Two years on, he finds himself on the verge of returning to the club where he made his name, his stint in England having gone very far awry.
There were some happy memories for him at Old Trafford, in his first campaign at least. He may have suffered with the odd injury, but his impact was mostly promising as the Red Devils cruised towards the title. Ferguson’s retirement that summer changed everything though.
His replacement, David Moyes was reticent to use Kagawa in the early parts of the season as United seemed to plumb new depths with every passing week.
It became obvious that they would not be retaining the title they had won a year earlier within months and they seemed unable to cope with opponents at home. The counterattacking game on which Kagawa thrives was not in place and the signing of Juan Mata effectively sealed his fate.
Of course, circumstances at Old Trafford have hardly helped him. After 27 years of Ferguson, the club have gone through more upheaval in the last 12 months than they did in the previous two decades and no United players, save David de Gea, have really enhanced their reputation.
But Kagawa’s utter fall from grace is a strange one. His arrival was closely followed by that of Robin van Persie and accommodating both of them in the same team as Wayne Rooney, with all three in their preferred positions, proved difficult. Kagawa often found himself shunted out to the left wing, a role he hardly relishes.
As his second season at Old Trafford wore on, he became more and more vocal in his frustration. "I still haven’t scored any goals this season so I’ve felt very irritated," he said in February. "This is the first time in my career that I haven’t been able to produce, so it’s disappointing. Some days it feels like I just can’t win."
All the while, he had his eyes on the Westefalenstadion and BVB had their eyes on him. Jurgen Klopp had often hinted that he would have no hesitation to bring Kagawa back to his old club in a bid to rekindle the magic of old.
It is a story strikingly similar to that of Nuri Sahin, who had left Dortmund for Real Madrid a year before Kagawa’s switch to England, only to find himself back at his former home just 18 months later, having hardly featured at the Santiago Bernabeu or, later, at Liverpool.
Now the Turkey international is back in Germany and slowly rebuilding his reputation – Kagawa will want the same.
In any case, BVB have done good business on both. They spent the money raised from Sahin’s sale to sign Ilkay Gundogan and the 25-year-old proved to be invaluable cover for the injured German last term. BVB had no hesitation in re-signing him for €7 million – just €3m less than what they had sold him for.
Similarly, Kagawa is likely to move back to Signal Iduna Park for Kagawa starting at just €7.5m after leaving for €16m. And though he remains popular with fans for his exploits of old, he returns to find the team in a very different state.
Klopp has true depth and a talented array of attackers in Marco Reus, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Jakub Blaszczykowski, and Kagawa is far from guaranteed a first-team berth.
For now, though, the 25-year-old can focus on getting his career back on track.