Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Kagawa - how will Ferguson fit him into his tactical revolution?

Shinji Kagawa has flown into Manchester this morning to begin life as a Manchester United player. In light of this, James from Written Offside had a chat with Titus Chalk, a freelance journalist from Berlin who earlier this week had written this piece on Kagawa for United's official website.

Did United's interest in Kagawa surprise you?

A little - not because of any lack of quality on Kagawa's part, but purely because I don't think United stumbled in Europe or finished second in the Premier League because of a lack of a quality number 10 - that is after all Rooney's position. Rather other areas of the team look in serious need of investment, especially central midfield and left-back, if Evra has another iffy season.

What would you say are his three main attributes?

Lovely close control, fantastic movement and vision between the lines and wonderful passing ability. He is also a fantastically hard worker and defends brilliantly from the front.

Do you feel he will play in the hole for United or will Ferguson attempt to turn him into a midfielder?

I think this is really the huge question surrounding Kagawa's move - what does Sir Alex Ferguson have in mind tactically for United over the coming seasons and how does Kagawa fit into that?

I think there are two possible answers - firstly (and perhaps also why there were those rumours about Lewandowski coming as well), he might be wanting to make United a higher, harder pressing side, to beat Barcelona at their own game. Kagawa would fit that plan, Rooney, Valencia and Welbeck too - as they are all willing workers for the team. I think it would also explain why United have still made buying a defensive central midfielder not a priority: if you're defending higher up the pitch you might be able to get away with a Carrick or Anderson in the deep midfield role (Busquets at Barça is hardly a bruiser).

On the other hand (and we'll see soon enough if United do buy a central midfielder), perhaps Fergie does want to convert Shinji to a deeper role - there were some quotes from the player suggesting Ferguson had told him he wants to make him a playmaker - so he might pop up all the way back in a double pivot. I think that's a strange decision personally (although I don't want to second guess Fergie at this point!) - Kagawa probably has the passing ability for it but his finishing in and around the box is marvellous and it would be a shame to sacrifice that.

Where do you see Kagawa in five years? Will playing at United take him up a level?
Crikey, that's a long way ahead - I can't really answer that. I do think he is good enough to make a significant contribution at United though, if he is given the time and support to adapt to England and the Premier League. At Dortmund, they really went out of there way to make him feel comfortable and his translator was always on the team bus or bench at games and would even shout out Klopp's instructions to Shinji from the touchline. I spoke to him recently whilst negociations were still going on and at that point it wasn't clear whether he would also be moving to Manchester - it's hard to imagine Fergie letting someone have that same access (although the translator did accompany Shinji for his medical, so maybe he will be joining in some capacity). Shinji speaks no German and no English and it will be tough for him. I think he has the mental strength to succeed, and worked hard on his physical side too when moving to Europe - give him time and he could be a fantastic signing for United.

I read that you feel the Kagawa signing could lead to the introduction of a pressing game at United, do they have the personnel currently to carry this out?
See above - and also think back to Berba's agent's remarks about his player not fitting the game Fergie wanted to develop for United with much more movement. Maybe that's what he was talking about? Also, if the financial picture dictates that United will continue investing in younger players in their early 20s, why not? They have the energy to implement it, and working together in a collective pressing style could make up for their lack of experience or pedigree. It's worked wonders at Dortmund where the team is incredibly young, egoless, and have worked their balls off together to win trophies.

Who else from the Bundesliga could you see flourish in England and why?
There is such a wealth of young talent in the Bundesliga at the moment, it's hard to say - or rather, it's hard it's hard to say why they would move when they have such a great, supportive environment to develop in in Germany. I think that's why the German players who do move abroad aren't teenagers - rather players who are mature and ready to take a further leap in their development (eg Podolski moving to Arsenal - and Marco Reus staying put in Germany).

If I had to mention one player, I would say Sven Bender. His season was really ruined by injury, but if he can recapture his form and his starting place at Dortmund, he could quickly become a very coveted defensive midfielder. He has boundless energy, great positional sense and is a tough tackler. It's mindblowing sometimes to see much work he gets through in a game. A brilliant breaker who could slot very nicely into a side looking for a defensive partner in a central midfield two.

What areas of his game does he need to work on?
He could release the ball quicker now and then, but as mentioned in the Inside United piece, I think he's gone to the best possible club to learn that discipline. Fergie's track record at getting skilful dribblers to release the ball at the right time is rather good and I think Shinji will soak up anything the coaches at Carrington tell him.

How bigger a factor was Sir Alex in Kagawa's decision to join United?
I think pretty big - he obviously has immense respect for him and feels he can progress his game at the club. I think he also shares that winning mentality that Fergie looks for in his players (despite his deceptively playful smile and demeanour) - he has a steely, ambitious side and in that, will be a good fit for Ferguson's United.

And finally, the most important question. UK tabloids seem to think Kagawa's girlfriend is a porn star. Can you confirm or deny this rumour?!
I don't know anything about this I'm afraid, although I'm sure the red tops would love this to be true! He got the mickey taken out of him a little when he first arrived in Germany for pointing out in one of his first interviews that he had never seen so many tall, blonde women in his life as in Dortmund, so perhaps a slight ladies' man tag has stuck to him!

A huge thanks to Titus for taking the time to answer these questions. You can follow him on Twitter by clicking this link.

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