Shinji Kagawa left with no choice at Manchester United

Two words – what if? – seem to sum up the sense that his career at Old Trafford under different coaches amounted to a missed opportunity.

Shinji Kagawa arrived as the poster boy of Manchester United's midfield but his stint at the club was a underwhelming. The banners are being removed from Old Trafford stadium. Richard Jolly for The National
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There is a brief video of them grinning and hugging. Jurgen Klopp and Shinji Kagawa, together again. The most predictable of reunions looks the happiest.

Back at Borussia Dortmund, the Japanese remains an enigma to English eyes.

Two words – what if? – seem to sum up the sense that his career at Manchester United amounted to a missed ­opportunity.

What if Kagawa had been allowed an extended run as a No 10? What if United had not signed first Robin van Persie and then Juan Mata, others who coveted central roles?

What if Wayne Rooney had not been granted preferential treatment? What if Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor had been someone other than David Moyes, a manager more likely to configure a team around a technical talent then to look past it?

Yet, each question suggests that Kagawa was the victim of circumstances. That he was the right player at the wrong time, perhaps, or the right player at the wrong club.

In each, Kagawa is spared blame when there is a case for pronouncing him United’s greatest underachiever during his spell at Old Trafford.

Others, such as Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia, Marouane Fellaini and Tom Cleverley, possess less talent. Nani and Anderson flattered to deceive but at least they delivered – briefly in the Brazilian’s case – in earlier years.

Kagawa became a cause celebre, a stick with which to beat the beleaguered Moyes. Yet, a return of six goals in 57 games for United was dismal, especially from a player whose first spell at Dortmund yielded 29 in 71.

Indeed, half of Kagawa’s output came in the space of one game, a hat-trick against Norwich City that proved deceptive. It was a sign of his capabilities, but there were too few others.

A high-class performance in the 5-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen in the Uefa Champions League was a rare glimpse of his gifts, though it is worth remembering a player-coach, Ryan Giggs, 40, was still the outstanding player on the pitch that night.

It is pertinent, too, that United footballers should be judged by their displays in the major matches. Too often, Kagawa was ineffective. When assessing his two years at United, two quotes stand out. The first came from Klopp to The Guardian in May 2013.

“Shinji Kagawa is one of the best players in the world and he now plays 20 minutes at Manchester United – on the left wing,” he said. “My heart breaks.”

Yet, Kagawa’s resale price was just £6.3 million (Dh37.7m), certainly not the sum one of the planet’s most coveted players would command and similar to Radamel Falcao’s loan fee.

It is certainly no triumph of negotiation on United’s part. It is also a sign that Kagawa’s inability to adapt to a role on the left predated Moyes’ arrival.

He suffers by comparison with Steven Pienaar, another accustomed to the No 10 role in his Dortmund days, but who adjusted superbly to a role on the left in Moyes’ Everton side.

The South African became a regular scorer and supplier of goals.

Then, most recently, came Louis van Gaal’s appraisal. “Kagawa did not wish to fulfil my wishes, my philosophy when I played him,” the Dutchman said.

He was unable to fulfil Moyes’ either. Van Gaal tried Kagawa in central midfield in his 3-4-1-2 shape. Factor in Sir Alex Ferguson and three very different United managers failed to get the best from him or, in Van Gaal’s case, abandoned his attempts.

The cheap jibe is to say his departure will be a blow to the marketing department but not the team.

The reality is that Kagawa was not simply signed to sell shirts.

He was bought because his performances at Dortmund indicated he was a major talent, one who could ghost into space between the lines and score with a striker’s proficiency.

Instead, like Nuri Sahin, his best has been confined to the Westfalenstadion.

The alchemist Klopp, having made a profit on his dealings with another of his proteges, now has to ensure they have much to smile about in the future.

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