Welcome to Last Word on Football’s ‘Returning Players’ Series. In this edition, we take a look at attacking midfielder Shinji Kagawa.
The Japanese playmaker joined Borussia Dortmund in 2010 and went onto make 71 appearances during his first spell with 29 goals. He had a difficult two-year-spell in the Premier League with Manchester United and made a return to the club in 2014 and stayed in Germany until 2019.
Returning Players – Shinji Kagawa
First Spell at Borussia Dortmund
Having signed from Cerezo Osaka in his native Japan in 2010, Kagawa’s talents came to the fore for the European audience. His release clause was a bargain €350,000 and Dortmund gladly snapped him up.
The attacker made a flying start for the Yellow and Blacks with goals in the Champions League against Qarabag and Wolfsburg. But it was his two goals against arch-rivals Schalke in the Revierderby which endeared him to the Dortmund faithful. Pre-match, he proclaimed he would score two goals in the derby. Remarkably, he duly delivered, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory.
He made a blistering start to his Bundesliga career, but an injury on international duty would curtain his great form. Kagawa would miss half of the promising season. However, he still fired in eight goals in 18 league games to help steer Dortmund to the league title. Personally, he was rewarded by featuring in the Bundesliga’s best line-up of that season. The land of the rising sun had a new superstar in Kagawa.
The next season, he would regain his fitness and shine. Vision, creativity and goals – Kagawa was the full package. He would enjoy the best season of his career in Europe. His tally of 17 goals and eight assists in 43 games overall would help Dortmund regain the Bundesliga. He also scored and created an assist in that season’s German Cup final as his side destroyed Bayern Münich 5-2 in Berlin.
Teams That Shinji Kagawa Played for in Between
Kagawa would only play for once club sandwiched between his Dortmund years as the Premier League and Manchester United came calling in 2012. The Red Devils signed the Japanese starlet for £12 million. He became the first Japanese player to play for the club.
The expectation was high after a highly successful 2011/12 season, yet things could not quite click into place. The pace of the league and a knee injury ruling him out for two months hampered his transition. Kagawa never fully lived up to his expectation. However, he did become the first Asian player to score a Premier League hat-trick in the league in a 4-0 win against Norwich City. He also won that seasons’ Premier League trophy
The following season, Kagawa secured the Community Shield, but it was to be his final season in England. His haul of just six goals in 56 matches meant that his time at Old Trafford was a short one.
Return to Dortmund
Just two years after he bid farewell to Dortmund, Kagawa was back. He signed for almost half of what Dortmund sold him for, arriving for £6.5 million. The hero for many a Dortmund supporter, his second coming started in style – scoring a goal and making an assist on his second debut as Dortmund won 3-1 over Freiburg.
From then on, Kagawa would spend the next four years with the club and it was a very fruitful second spell. He enlarged his legend at the Signa Iduna Park and achieved two notable records. He became the top Japanese goalscorer in the German league in 2017 when he scored his 38th league goal against Augsburg. The goal surpassed Shinji Okazaki, who went on to lift the Premier League with Leicester City. He also scored the 20,000th away goal in the Bundesliga against Hertha Berlin in 2018. He would also return to lift the German Cup at the end of the 2016/17 season. Overall, he appeared a further 145 times in the Yellow and Black shirt, scoring 31 times.
Kagawa’s Surprise Spanish Signing and Greek Adventure Followed Dortmund
In the summer of 2019, Kagawa shocked the footballing world by signing for Real Zaragoza. Not so surprising you would think, only that the club were in the Second Division. It was a dream of his to play in Spain and one which was fulfilled.
It proved to be a masterstroke by manager Víctor Fernández. Playing a league below his true potential, the Japanese attacker shone. He scored four goals in 33 games in his only season as Zaragoza narrowly missed out on promotion through play-off heartache.
This past January, Kagawa put pen to paper on a one-and-a-half-year contract with PAOK Thessaloniki where he has played in eight matches to date. At 31, he has still a lot of football in him. Meanwhile, he will want to continue playing and become a Centurian for his national side as he currently sits on 97 appearances and 31 goals for the Japenese national team.
The Legend of Shinji Kagawa
Kagawa is an intelligent baller on his day. He is a gifted player capable of creating and scoring wonderful goals, such is his technical qualities. He is also a versatile midfielder who demonstrates effective decision making qualities. Most of these characteristics were seen at ‘his’ club of Borussia Dortmund where he indelibly left his mark.