During the 2011/12 season, Shinji Kagawa was nigh-on untouchable. Only in his second season with Borussia Dortmund, the midfielder was in the form of his life.
Arriving as an unknown product from Cerezo Osaka in his native Japan, the €350k fee left supporters not expecting much of the 2010 summer signing. It took little time for him to become adored by the Borussen faithful, however, when he boldly claimed he would score twice against fierce rivals Schalke 04, a promise he followed up on in a 3-1 win.
From there it was one dazzling display after another from the diminutive midfielder, who after scoring 12 goals in just 28 outings in Germany would follow that up with 17 across 43 appearances the following term.
These outings were heightened by the silverware they helped produce. Dortmund had claimed the Bundesliga title in his debut season before defending their title the following campaign and adding a DFB-Pokal alongside it. He thoroughly deserved his place in Kicker’s Team of the Season two years running.
Under Jurgen Klopp, Kagawa flourished, prompting Europe to begin counting their pennies in search of securing his signature. Considering how spellbindingly brilliant he’d been for two seasons, the fact Manchester United needed only spend £12m to bring him to the Premier League was a real shock.
That’s all it took though, and the Japanese international made his United debut during pre-season in 2012. It was none other than Sir Alex Ferguson who earmarked Kagawa as a key signing, brought in to provide key balance alongside the more defensive minded Michael Carrick.
Carrick was the first choice central midfielder, but his partner in the centre of the park altered between Kagawa, Paul Scholes and Tom Cleverley – with the new signing featuring only 18 times from the start that season due to an unfortunate injury picked up on matchday seven.
It would rule Kagawa out for 12 matches, but nonetheless, his arrival made the desired impact. Having scored twice and assisted once in his first six league matches, his return from injury was crucial in United finishing the season strongly and lifting another Premier League title. Kagawa’s hat-trick at home to Norwich was a particular highlight.
Sadly for Kagawa, that was Ferguson’s United swansong, and the arrival of David Moyes – and Marouane Fellaini – meant his place was never assured from then on at Old Trafford. He featured fleetingly that season and returned to Dortmund the following summer.
His time back in the Bundesliga, while never matching the heights of his first sting, were still fruitful, as he played a further 145 times across five full season, scoring 31 goals and lifting the DFB-Pokal in 2017.
A return to his former stomping ground eventually came to an end when he joined Besiktas on loan for the 2018/19 season, and when he returned to Dortmund, his goodbyes were said as he penned a two-year deal with Real Zaragoza in the Spanish second division.
Defeat in the Liga 2 play-offs was a bitter end to an otherwise impressive campaign for Kagawa, who surprisingly had his contract terminated on 2 October of this year. As it is, he remains without a club.
Talk of him staying in Spain has emerged of late, but any sides with concerns over his ability at 31 years of age need just look at his displays last season and beyond. Kagawa still has plenty to offer.