Japanese football has really come alive over the last 5 or so years. What once was a country that produced an occasional top league player has seen Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa, Yuto Nagatomo and many others become very well-known names within the footballing circles since 2010.
It is Kagawa who is the cream of the crop, a player who signed with Borussia Dortmund in 2010 as a virtual nobody for European football fans. In Japan he was known, having played for the national team already by that time. He took no time to win over the Borussia Dortmund faithful and soon whole footballing world followed.
His debut season was wonderful, but he is showing this season that he can take his game even further. His form in 2012 has been nothing short of fantastic and he has really been able to step up when Dortmund needed him during Mario Götze’s injury.
Kagawa who’ll turn 23 next month, is someone who most top clubs in Europe have their eye on and his situation at the moment is a bit complicated. He has announced that he wants to extend his deal lasting until 2013, but considering the fact that there is just a little more than a year remaining of his contract, Dortmund will have to take into account the possibility that some big team could make Kagawa change his mind and he might move in the summer.
Report on Shinji Kagawa
Personal Information (according to transfermarkt.co.uk):
Name: Shinji Kagawa
Date of Birth: 17.03.1989 (age 22)
Height: 172 cm
Current Club: Borussia Dortmund (contracted until 30.06.2013)
National Team: Played in Japanese senior, U23, U20 and U17 teams
Position: Attacking midfielder / Wide forward
Preferred Foot: Right
Statistics For Last 3 Seasons (according to transfermarkt.co.uk):
2011/2012: Borussia Dormtund / Japan – 35 games, 14 goals, 9 assists, 2711 minutes played
2010/2011: Borussia Dortmund / Japan – 37 games, 15 goals, 5 assists, 3 yellow cards, 2835 minutes played
2009/2010: Cerezo Osaka / Japan – 15 games, 7 goals, 1 assist, 1 yellow card, 1120 minutes played
Games Watched To Make The Report:
1. Borussia Dortmund – Hoffenheim 3:1 (Bundesliga, 28.01.2012)
2. Nürnberg – Borussia Dortmund 0:2 (Bundesliga, 03.02.2012)
3. Borussia Dortmund – Bayer Leverkusen (Bundesliga, 11.02.2012)
Analysis of Kagawa’s Performances:
2012 has been a great year for Kagawa and so were the three games I watched him play in. He started all those games as a central attacking midfielder behind Robert Lewandowski.
He seems to have a relative amount of freedom in the Jürgen Klopp team as he sometimes exchanges positions with Lewandowski even while at times also dropping deeper than the two central midfielders behind him. He also drifts freely from one side of the pitch to another.
He scored three goals in those games, including a double against Hoffenheim. His impressive performances made him the man of the match in my eyes in all of those games where he was clearly the most talented player on show.
Kagawa is small player and this gives him an advantage when it comes to balance and he uses his this very well.
His dribbling and movement is very similar to Argentine superstar Leo Messi who he has also be compared with. He has shrugged off those comparisons himself, but they are not far off. He needs to show far more consistency, but in a single game he is very capable of being almost unplayable.
He is able to shrug off a lot of challenges, the ball sticks to his feet, he has a fast turn and his acceleration is superb, all those things apply even in the later stages of the game when you’d forgive him for being a bit tired.
It was this acceleration and brilliant close control that played a part in his goals. For his first goal against Hoffenheim, he left one defender for dead with a few steps in the box and for the goal against Leverkusen, he got the ball 25-30 yards from goal, sprinted past one defender and then stopped suddenly in the box to take out another defender before finishing with left foot.
Opponent defenders simply could not handle his acceleration as he constantly left them chasing shadows with or without the ball. He was always looking to get free and find as much free space as possible. His determination and work-rate also seems to confirm the stereotypes about hard-working and disciplined Japanese once again.
Coming back to physical side, the small stature does create a few problems. When he loses his concentration, he sometimes lets the defenders closer than he should and then he is weak against the incoming challenge. Playing in a league where defenders go through the back more often than in Germany could require some adapting time.
Another thing on the negative side is that he should challenge opponents with the ball more often. At times it is better that he chooses to stand off and look to block the passing opportunity, but there are moments when you’d want him to challenge for the ball and get closer to the opponent. He is fast enough to nick the ball away from an opponent if the opponent miscontrols the ball even slightly.
Good passing and vision
Kagawa is also an intelligent player. While he does an occasional dribble, he only does it when he has calculated the situation. You don’t really see him trying to get through a wall of 3 players, in such a situation he calmly tries to find a way to pass the ball to someone, even if it means going back.
There were at least two occasions in the box where he had a ball in a reasonable shooting position but with lot of opponents ahead of him. Many players would have blocked their brain from receiving any new information and tried to get the shot away, but he calmly understood what was going around him and rather than trying to squeeze the ball through the tiniest crack in the wall of players ahead, he passed the ball to a completely free player who opponents had forgotten about as they all chased down Kagawa.
His passing is top quality, especially quick short passing. He is also capable of seeing and executing the more difficult passes. He played a few incredibly well-executed through balls that split the opponent defence and were also perfect for the players chasing them down as they could take the ball in their stride.
Kagawa is capable of playing with both his feet, but when dribbling he tends to use his right foot quite excessively. For his size, he also has good heading technique. He might not jump very high, but he is not afraid to play with his head, giving precise flick-on’s or heading down the ball perfectly for a team-mate.
Kagawa’s constant movement and determination to get rid of defenders sees him get a lot of chances in the box and luckily for Dortmund, he is also a good shooter. He doesn’t have a rifle on his right, let alone left foot, but he gets his shots on target and doesn’t snatch at them.
What level do I think he is:
I think Kagawa is a top class player who, in this time with top teams lacking quality, could walk into starting line-up of all teams expect the two Spanish giants. But even in there he wouldn’t look out-of-place.
He could become more prolific and time will show whether his brilliant series of games since last December is good form or is this now the standard of Shinji Kagawa.
What level do I think he could reach:
There is not room for improvement for Kagawa in terms of future, but time will show how he reacts to new challenges and if he keeps up this performance level.
He has potential to be the player to build a top team around and will be interesting to see whether he will stay in Dortmund or go to some richer side outside of Germany (or Bayern).
I see in him a player who could score as many as 30 goals per season from attacking midfield position behind a lone striker like he is now at Dortmund. Or even better, he could play the so-called “fake number 9” role.
If I had to pay 10 million euros rating: 10/10
Kagawa is a young player with brilliant ability and technique. And on top of all that, he is the best player from a country with a very passionate and big market.
If he leaves Dortmund, whoever signs him and keeps him for a long period will reap the financial benefits even when he has been gone. And who knows, maybe with the growing number of quality Japanese players, that club could look to sign another Japanese starter to cement their place as number one club in the Japanese market.
Here is a player who is as good as the likes of Eden Hazard or any other young player the big teams of Europe are chasing, he is potentially cheaper (although more than 10 million euros surely) and his marketability is far bigger.