Arguably Asia’s finest player over the last couple of years, Shinji Kagawa’s £17 million move from Borussia Dortmund to Manchester United in June 2012 showed how highly valued his talent was in the football world.
Despite struggling with injury last season, Kagawa’s technical ability and creativity was evident for all to see, so much so that he was touted by then-manager Sir Alex Ferguson to play a starring role this season. It seemed there was little doubt then that the Japanese playmaker would eventually develop into a key player for United this year.
Surprisingly though, Kagawa’s first-team involvement so far this season has been limited to a seven-minute cameo appearance in the Community Shield victory against Wigan Athletic. The Japan star has yet to make an appearance in the Premier League, which has baffled most supporters.
Against Chelsea more than a fortnight ago, new manager David Moyes chose to bring on Ryan Giggs instead of Kagawa for the last 10 minutes when it appeared that the latter would have been more suited to unlock the Blues' tight and seemingly impenetrable defense.
Worse still, Kagawa did not even make the bench the previous weekend at Anfield in the 1-0 loss to Liverpool, despite Wayne Rooney’s injury prior to the game. Again, United could have more than benefited from Kagawa’s penetration and creativity in a match where they struggled to create chances.
Simply put, if creativity is the problem, Kagawa is the solution. So why was he not in the thick of the action when it seemed that he was needed the most?
His latest performances for Japan in the recent international friendlies showed he is more than ready to be involved in matches. He pulled the strings in Japan's 3-0 victory aginst Guatemala, before hitting a fine goal in an impressive 3-1 victory against Ghana.
Leading the chorus of criticism and displeasure at Kagawa’s lack of involvement in the first team picture is the Evil Kagawa Twitter account. As fictional alter ego of Kagawa, the parody account gives a negative and sarcastic but light-hearted "voice" to issues pertaining to Kagawa himself. It has garnered a huge following, with over 130,000 followers already receiving his amusing tweets.
Humourous as they are, the tweets do come with some substance as well. The twitter handle’s recent outbursts even give statistical evidence depicting the player’s brilliance. For one, Evil Kagawa compared Kagawa’s goal scoring prowess to the other Manchester United midfielders who had featured more regularly than him the previous season.
The twitter account then went even further, showing how he is on par or even better than the other top playmakers in the premier league.
As if the point was not clear enough, a recent tweet also showed a goal scoring comparison between Kagawa and Barcelona central midfielders Andres Iniesta and Xavi, arguably the best central midfield pairing in the world right currently.
Of course there is no denying that the facts have been slightly skewed to prove the basic point that on his day, Kagawa’s attacking prowess is unrivalled. But as much as we should take it with a pinch of salt, statistics do not lie.
Furthermore, such is the surprise at Kagawa’s omission that even fans from former club Dortmund have recently launched a massive #freeshinji campaign to bring him back to the Bundesliga outfit.
Looking further back, Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp had already been complaining since June about Kagawa being played out of position last season.
“Shinji Kagawa is one of the best players in the world and he now plays 20 minutes at Manchester United - on the left wing,” the melodramatic Klopp said at that time. "My heart breaks. Really, I have tears in my eyes."
But before we get carried away with all these dramatic retaliations of Kagawa’s lack of playing time, let’s take a step back for a minute.
We should consider the strong possibility that Moyes does not want to rush Kagawa back too quickly due to an apparent lack of fitness. The diminutive midfielder, in truth, has not had as much rest at the end of last season, mainly due to Japan’s commitments in the Confederations Cup. Hence, his pre-season preparations have been affected as well because of this, despite his recent impressive performances for Japan.
There is also the issue of the 2012 Asian Football Confederation International Player of the Year’s susceptibility to injuries. In the 2010/11 season, he missed half the Bundesliga season through injury. He also missed the better part of last season due to injury problems. Considering the physical nature of the Premier League, the rational thing to do would be to ensure that the Kagawa can stand up to the rigours of the entire season before being thrown into the deep end.
Whatever it is, United fans should not start hitting the panic button yet. Yes, certain results early on have not gone in United’s favour and yes, Kagawa’s presence could have possibly altered some of the negative results. But we are still in the early days of a long season, and the odds are that we would definitely see more of Kagawa in the weeks to come.
Otherwise, along with its popularity, Evil Kagawa’s unhappiness will keep rising exponentially, while the sound of Klopp’s heart breaking gets more and more deafening.