Manchester United began the long-overdue revamping of their midfield yesterday by agreeing a deal to sign Shinji Kagawa. The creative Japanese international will join from Borussia Dortmund, pending a medical and work permit, for a fee thought to be £12m.
United struggled in midfield all last year, with Tom Cleverley limited by injuries. Paul Scholes had to be brought back from retirement in January. Kagawa is not the next Roy Keane but he will be a vital imaginative presence in United's midfield. He played two seasons at Dortmund – they won the Bundesliga in each of them – deployed behind the striker in a 4-2-3-1 system. In the league last year, Kagawa recorded 13 goals and eight assists in 29 starts. Over his two seasons, he scored 21 goals in just 46 Bundesliga starts.
That kind of incision is an area where United have lacked in comparison to Manchester City, who have David Silva and Samir Nasri. But Eurosport's Bundesliga commentator Ian Holyman believes Kagawa will make a real difference. "He's fantastic, he's great on the ball," he told i. "He can work through the tightest of defences."
Sir Alex Ferguson tends to play 4-5-1 most often in Europe, and, in general, 4-4-2 in domestic football. Kagawa's gifts, though, are much better used in the former. He might be too slight to play centrally in a 4-4-2 – although Luka Modric has adapted to it – and he is not a winger either.
"He's not the biggest, he's not the strongest," Holyman said. "He is not going to beat a full-back. This is a guy who excels at the real fine arts in and around the box, slipping in the central striker or playing a pass and finishing himself. I don't think he is going to struggle as much as other Japanese players in the Premier League."
United had just been beaten to the signing of Eden Hazard, but Holyman does not see a gulf between them: "Kagawa is the equal of Hazard. It is an excellent move for all concerned."