Ahead of Borussia Dortmund's Friday night clash with Nurnberg in the Bundesliga, Germany-based Japanese scribe Akira Araiwa analyses the Samurai Blue's up-and-down seasonCOMMENT
By Akira Araiwa
Another hectic transfer window passed with Shinji Kagawa having a rather quiet winter and despite some speculation, the Japanese international remains at Borussia Dortmund. It is understandable since the effects of his foot injury were evident in his unimpressive form during the first couple of months of the 2011-12 season, so potential suitors cooled their interest.
As with every long-term injury, it has come as no surprise that the Dortmund attacker has struggled after his nearly four-month spell on the sidelines. The ease with which he seemed to roam around the pitch upon his arrival in Germany, his goals, his playing style which former team-mate Nuri Sahin dubbed "angelic", all seemed to disappear - instead, a heavy burden of pressure rested upon the shoulders of the 22-year-old.
Beginning of the 2011-12 season: A succession of desperate attempts
Among BVB supporters, trust in the attacker to reproduce the scintillating form of his debut half season was high early on, but with every average display at the beginning of this campaign, confidence in the Japanese faded. Furthermore, with opponents marking him tighter, the former Cerezo man himself seemed to lose belief in his abilities, his game becoming more and more a succession of desperate goal attempts.
His poor stats spoke volumes. Until the seventh Bundesliga round, after which he found himself ordered to the bench by Dortmund boss Jurgen Klopp for the first time, he had only one league goal to his name and was involved in the assisting of only one other. Compared to his pre-injury form, when he scored one quarter of the team’s goals, and had a hand in more than a third, his drop in form was startling.
|SHINJI KAGAWA'S 2010-11 GOAL INVOLVEMENTS STATS
||Build-up to goals
Double against Tajikistan: Turning point for Kagawa
For the first time in his career, Kagawa began to become familiar with the feeling of failure. Media at home before Japan’s World Cup qualifier in October even regarded him as a burden for the Samurai Blue. It was then that the Kobe native answered his critics scoring a brace in the 8-0 trouncing of Tajikistan. It was also then when Kagawa’s season took a dramatic turn, leaving behind what he described as “the most difficult point in my football career”.
On October 22, he returned to Dortmund’s starting line-up when the club thrashed Koln by five goals. Out of these, Kagawa may have netted only once, but he was indirectly involved in two other goals. Looking back, the game seemed to mark not only the attacker’s rediscovery of his form, but his transition to a player able to create opportunities for his teammates, as well as finding the back of the net himself.
|SHINJI KAGAWA'S 2011-12 GOAL INVOLVEMENTS STATS
||Build-up to goals
Overall, the 22-year-old has scored five goals, provided six assists and has been involved in the build-up leading to seven further goals for his side since mid-October. Out of 25 league goals Dortmund managed to score with Kagawa on the pitch during that time, the former Cerezo man was either directly or indirectly involved in a massive 18 of those.
Kagawa involved in nearly three quarters of Dortmund’s goals
Naturally, the rise of his form corresponds with that of the whole team and the blossoming of Robert Lewandowski in particular, who has become a clinical hitman this season despite suffering his fair share of criticism last campaign. Poland’s Footballer of the Year now leads the club’s scoring charts with 14 goals to his account, while nine of these coincide with Kagawa’s run since the Koln game.
Apart from this new-found goal-producing formula in the champions’ attacking department, it is worth noting that Kagawa’s latest nine goal involvements came without Mario Gotze on the pitch. Klopp as well as the club’s supporters will find comfort in the fact that with Germany’s prodigy out for yet another six weeks due to injury, their side will not be short of class up front.
The future: Contract extension imminent?
According to the latest reports, BVB sports director Michael Zorc is to hold contract extension talks with the young Japanese star in the coming weeks. German tabloid Bild earlier this week claimed that failing to agree terms with him before the summer would mean a departure at the end of the season as this would allow the club the opportunity to still cash in on one of their prized assets. The consensus around the Signal-Iduna Park is that the club will reach an agreement with the player, thus making an attacking triumvirate consisting of Gotze, Kagawa and Marco Reus a reality for the 2012-13 campaign – an exciting prospect for any fan of beautiful football.