Shinji Kagawa hasn’t played for Manchester United in over a month. David Moyes has come under much criticism for not giving the playmaker minutes, but surely there’s a reason for that lack of trust… (日本語版：http://www.footballchannel.jp/2014/02/12/post25898/)
Shinji Kagawa’s troubles at Manchester United have been well-documented. The playmaker looks highly unlikely to be establishing himself as a key figure at the Red Devils any time soon and a move away looks increasingly like being the best option for all involved.
Much of the coverage in Japan – and a reasonable amount in England, too – has cast Kagawa as a victim of a conservative manager, but while David Moyes has far from impressed in his debut season in charge at Old Trafford I don’t think the player himself is entirely blameless.
Yes, he has been given very few opportunities – starting just seven league games all season – but when Kagawa has played he hasn’t exactly taken the bull by the horns. Quite the opposite, in fact, and the 24-year-old looks a shadow of the bustling, conniving, and direct bundle of energy who twisted the blood of so many J.League and Bundesliga defenders during his spells at Cerezo Osaka and Borussia Dortmund.
That has nothing to do with technical ability, physical condition, or position on the pitch but everything to do with confidence.
While he soared when tearing defenders in J2 to shreds and when surrounded by sublime talents such as Ilkay Gundogan, Mario Gotze, and Robert Lewandowski, Kagawa doesn’t seem capable of bringing about a change in fortunes when the going gets tough.
There was a spell at the start of the year when both Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney were injured yet Kagawa was still not trusted by his coach. There must be a reason for that – and the suggestion that it is because Moyes prefers safer, more defence-minded players to risk-takers was disproven with the signing of Juan Mata at the end of January. Whatever Moyes is seeing on the training pitch can’t be enough to convince him that Kagawa is the answer to United’s many problems.
The lack of trust can likely be traced back to last summer when Moyes took his place in the Old Trafford hot seat. With the unenviable task of succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson before him the 50-year-old needed to quickly gauge the dynamics of his squad, not just in terms of on-the-pitch abilities but with regards to team spirit too. The relatively shy Kagawa, who let’s not forget still has very limited English ability, would have appeared a peripheral figure and not one around whom the team could necessarily be structured.
Danny Welbeck, Ashley Young, and Antonio Valencia are all inferior players to Kagawa but you sense that Moyes detects a resilience in them that is lacking in Japan’s No.10.
Any initial doubts Moyes may have had can only have been reinforced by the friendly against Cerezo Osaka in July last year, when Kagawa appeared incredibly nervous despite the fact that it was in essence a party in his honour. As well as missing an early sitter the former Cerezo No. 8 also had a penalty saved before admitting afterwards that, “I couldn’t focus. I thought if I scored a penalty I wouldn’t be so happy. I wanted to score [a different way]. At the moment of taking the kick I was confused.”
He did get his goal from open play in the end, but Moyes would surely have been concerned; if you have difficulty concentrating when taking a penalty in a stadium where all 40-odd thousand fans want you to score, how on earth would you cope in a Champions League knockout tie? Would Keisuke Honda have been on edge taking a penalty against Nagoya Grampus? I highly doubt it.
Levir Culpi’s comments in a recent article on this site described a strong-minded and focused young Kagawa who always had his sights set on playing at the top. Getting there is undoubtedly an achievement to be proud of but staying there requires further dedication and self-belief. While Shinji’s professionalism can never be called into question the latter certainly seems to be in short supply at the moment.
The comparison with Honda – a man who can never be accused of lacking confidence – is a useful one to make, but with regards to Kagawa’s current woes a consideration of the career trajectory of Eden Hazard is perhaps more beneficial.
The Belgian signed for Chelsea at the same time as Kagawa joined United, yet while Shinji has slipped further and further down the pecking order – despite having come in with more top level European experience – Hazard is now one of the star names in the Premier League. As Kagawa spent another weekend as an unused sub as United struggled to take a point against bottom side Fulham Hazard dazzled with a hat-trick against Newcastle to send Chelsea top of the league, justifying the claim made a few weeks ago by Jose Mourinho that the forward could be a future winner of the Ballon D’or.
Hazard’s rise to prominence is remarkable not only when considering that just two months ago he was labeled as a ‘kid’ by Mourinho and dropped for a Champions League tie against Schalke after missing training, but also because of the abundance of attacking options available at Stamford Bridge – so many, in fact, that 2012 and 2013 Player of the Year Mata was deemed surplus to requirements.
Hazard’s self-assuredness has established him as the key man in amongst all that talent though, and by all accounts he is a casual and carefree individual who has total confidence in his own ability.
“[…] even in those games where things haven’t been working, you still have to try those movements, try to make a difference because attacking players are there for that,” he told the official Chelsea magazine in June last year.
“I know what I am capable of and I know that, in one movement, I can get past someone and create a chance, or score myself. It is about knowing what your capabilities are and being able to do those things.”
Kagawa can do all of those things too. Whether he currently believes it himself is another matter entirely.