Shinji Kagawa, and a glimpse of things to come
When Shinji Kagawa joined Manchester United for an initial fee of £12 million in the summer, many football observers were calling it a masterstroke.
His partnership with Robert Lewandowski had helped turn Dortmund into the top team in German football, while his ball-control, vision and goal-scoring ability pointed to a 23-year old who was exactly the kind of playmaker United were crying out for.
Fans frustrated at losing out on Eden Hazard and Lucas Moura could calm themselves in the knowledge that a quieter but no less impressive player was heading their way. And yet this season, the Japanese midfielder-cum-forward has shown only flickers of his undoubted ability.
That was until Saturday, when his hat-trick against Norwich City ended any doubts that he was cut out for the Premier League, or suited to any position besides that of a second striker.
While his first goal could be argued as a lucky one, his positioning was key, as was the confidence to take it on the outside of his right foot. But it was his second and third that should excite United fans the most.
The nonchalant side-foot finish for his second was that of a player whose thoughts are somehow quicker than the game he is caught up in, while his third saw his first touch dissect the Norwich defence and his second touch delicately chip the onrushing ‘keeper.
After each goal he celebrated only with a smile, as if he was used to it, or at least had been, and he was simply relieved that it was happening once more.
One game does not make a player. Just ask Andrei Arshavin. But on Saturday, Kagawa showed what he is capable of. And the fans who have seen glimpses of his passing ability and ball-retention over the last six months, have now seen what he can do when he is fit and a little more used to his surroundings.
Ultimately, his best performances may come at Old Trafford, when opponents tire and the attacking intent of his teammates lead to holes for him to exploit. And certainly away against the top sides, both domestically and in Europe, his ability to keep the ball may prove more important than where he can put it. But for fans crying out for a creative, goal-scoring midfielder, Saturday may have seen him stake his first claim for the job.
The rumours continue that Kagawa’s former teammate Lewandowksi will be joining him at Old Trafford next season. Whether they need him is another matter. But with or without him, Kagawa has found his feet.
They are very special feet indeed. And by next season, they could have the beating of most.