The number 26 is sure to be spotted far more regularly in Japan and Manchester in the years to come if Shinji Kagawa keeps up his impressive start at United. Alberto Zaccheroni may have to keep another series of digits in mind, too…
“Kagawa’s 4-minute debut!” screamed the headline on one paper after Manchester United’s first pre-season match against South African side AmaZulu in July.
And so it began…
The transfer of the former Cerezo Osaka player to United is understandably huge news for Japanese football and Kagawa is certainly talented enough to make the grade at Old Trafford, but I’m trying my best not to get too carried away.
These early stages are critical in determining whether or not he is given the time or chances to establish himself at one of the biggest clubs in the world, and as a man who has managed some of the others I am inclined to agree with Alberto Zaccheroni on the matter.
“I said to Shinji, “I pray for your happiness in Manchester,” but I didn’t say congratulations,” the Italian said after United announced the signing of Japan’s No.10 back in June.
“This is just a starting point, he hasn’t achieved anything yet. If he plays for three years and produces good results then I will try to call him and say congratulations,” the former Milan and Juventus coach continued.
“Going to Manchester United is a very important thing, but more important is to show a result while he’s there.”
Far from wishing to undermine the attacker’s move, Zac was merely sounding a note of caution as the media circus clicked into gear, and he signed off on a positive note.
“I’m sure I’ll be calling him in three years, though, because Shinji has good quality and a good mentality.”
It is this mentality which will be most crucial in determining if he can settle in Manchester, with several talented young players – and even proven big names – having struggled to adapt to the expectations of playing for the Red Devils.
Kagawa settled sensationally well into the Bundesliga after his switch from Cerezo in 2010 and that will have given him the confidence to know he can acclimatize to new surroundings, but the Theatre of Dreams is one of the most intimidating and unforgiving arenas for a player to be tested.
Dortmund’s Westfalonstadion is also famous for its packed stands and deafening support, but the pressure does not only come from the tens-of-thousands packed into the stadium.
Manchester United matches are watched worldwide by millions, and games which end in anything other than a win are usually considered shock results.
From the second the deal was made official by the club Kagawa has been fending off questions on the move, and the interest from Japanese media shows absolutely no signs of abating.
The man himself acknowledged the new levels of pressure he had taken on at his unveiling at Old Trafford, but insisted that it wasn’t anything he hadn’t expected.
“I definitely feel the attention of the media globally now I am a member of a great squad like Manchester United,” The Telegraph quoted him as saying.
“Everything here at the club shows me I have come somewhere really big.
“But I think I can take the pressure. I am pretty confident I can adapt to the style of the Premier League.”
He has certainly started well, and a couple of goals in pre-season friendlies and an impressive debut in the league against Everton suggest he has taken to his new club as quickly as he did to his previous one.
What was particularly impressive about his display at Goodison Park was the fact that he continued to demand the ball and attempt dribbles and decisive passes even while several of his more experienced teammates struggled to find form.
After Everton took the lead and the likes of Wayne Rooney and Nani began to rush decisions Kagawa kept his head and wasn’t afraid to take responsibility – a very promising sign in a difficult debut.
Despite the eventual 1-0 defeat his contribution was widely praised by English pundits – although the most important mark of approval came from the dugout.
With United in need of a goal and with Robin van Persie, Ashley Young and Dimitar Berbatov all on the bench Kagawa was entrusted with the playmaker role for the full 90 minutes by Sir Alex Ferguson.
If he can maintain that level of performance then Zac may be tempted to put that call in a little sooner.