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|Birthday||March 17, 1989|
Shinji Kagawa completed a remarkable ascent when Manchester United signed him from Borussia Dortmund in June 2012, just three years after he has been playing in the Japanese second division.
The Kobe-born playmaker’s rise to the top began at just five years old with Marino Football Club before he took in junior spells at Kobe NK FC and FC Miyagi Barcelona, the latter of which acts as a feeder club for local professional side Cerezo Osaka. He signed terms with Cerezo aged just 17 and broke through into the first team in 2007, playing 35 matches in Japan’s second tier. In 2009, he was top scorer in the division with 27 goals in 44 games and his performances attracted the attention of European clubs, with Dortmund eventually snapping him up for €350,000 in August 2010, halfway through Cerezo’s first season back in the J-League.
His international debut came in 2008, when he was also selected to play for Japan at the Olympics, though he missed out on selection for the 2010 World Cup. Kagawa did, though, go on to become a key figure for Alberto Zaccheroni in both the 2011 Asian Cup and the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign. The creative midfielder’s most impressive performance for the Blue Samuari to date came in the 2011 Asian Cup quarter-final, when he claimed a match-winning brace against Qatar to seal progress to the last four.
Kagawa made an immediate impact in his first season at Dortmund and was named in the Bundesliga Team of the Year despite missing half of the campaign through injury. He endeared himself to the Westfalenstadion faithful when predicting he would score a brace in a derby clash with Schalke and going on to do just that in a 3-1 win.
Dortmund won the league at the end of his first campaign and the tricky midfielder, used mainly in a trequartista role, went from strength to strength after returning from injury in time for the 2011-12 season. He was instrumental in the club retaining the Bundesliga and securing a Double for the first time in their history, with his relationship with striker Robert Lewandowski proving particularly fruitful. From January 2012, speculation was rife that he would leave the club and six months later he was heading out of Dortmund for a new challenge at Old Trafford, becoming the first Japanese player to play for United.
Strengths: A confident dribbler and also accomplished finisher from midfield, with a penchant for a long-range effort. Kagawa’s guile and vision are perhaps his best assets though; he boasted an average of nearly two key passes per game and a through-ball accuracy of 55.6% while at Dortmund.
Weaknesses: Not at all imposing in the air and lacks a sense of defensive discipline; he may be required to track back more at United than he was required to at Dortmund but his tackling is about as good as Paul Scholes’.
Career high: His 17 goals and ten assists in 38 starts helped Dortmund to the Double in 2011-12, with his final strike of the season opening the scoring in the German Cup final victory over Bayern Munich.
Career low: Missing out on the 2011 Asian Cup final, which Japan won, after breaking his metatarsal in the semi-final against South Korea.
Style: Technically gifted, a hugely creative playmaker who can also score goals.
Quotes: “I am delighted he has chosen to come to United. I believe he will make an impact upon the team very quickly as he is suited to United’s style of play.” Man Utd boss Sir Alex Ferguson, June 2012.
Trivia: Kagawa was the first Japanese player outside of the J-League, to sign a professional contract before finishing high school when he penned a deal with Cerezo Osaka at the age of 17.