By Don Pablo
First off, let me say that I am as ecstatic as the next guy that Man United has agreed a deal to sign the Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund. Kagawa offers a different dimension to anything we have at present; an attacking midfielder capable of thriving in the final third of the pitch. Whether we would have sanctioned such a signing if the player wasn’t in the final year of his contract (hence the knockdown price) is moot but regardless, Kagawa is a welcome signing.
Despite the excitement that comes with signing a goal getter and a goal creator, there’s a palpable sense of fear that laces such excitement. My fear is that Sir Alex Ferguson will curb the attacking instinct of a creative young player and in a few years time, we will end up with a less flambouyant more functional Kagawa.
There is a precedent to back such a scenario. When Anderson arrived at Man United, he was being dubbed ‘The new Ronaldinho’ due to his quick dribbling and his playing position that was similar to his established compatriot. A casual look at youtube videos of Anderson in his Porto days shows you a player whose game relied on creativity high up the pitch and could create chances in plenty for himself and his team mates (see video below). At United, Fergie has tried unsuccessfully to convert Anderson in to an all rounded midfield player who is equally adept at attacking as he is when tracking back. To say the least, he has failed in that regard with the Brazilian’s questionable fitness not making it any easier for the gaffer. Football pundits in Brazil have always lamented on how Sir Alex has killed the Brazilian in Anderson by trying to make him a central midfielder as opposed to his initial attacking midfielder role.
Michael Carrick is another player who arrived at United as a playmaker who would control play higher up the field but he has done a better job of dropping deep as compared to Anderson, mainly due to his passing range and his ability to read play hence breaking up opposition attacks from deep. Regardless of his relative sucess in a deeper role, the trequatista Carrick is no more.
As German football expert Raphael Honigstein puts it, Kagawa’s finishing is one of his strongest assets, along with his ability to play in team-mates with direct, one-touch passes. He is very much a man for the final third, a player who finds space between the lines and gets on the end of things. Pulling the strings in the center of the pitch is not his game.His ideal position is behind the main striker.
Kagawa would thus best be used in the hole in a 4-2-3-1 formation behind Rooney as the lone striker. This system would see us kill many birds with one stone. We will have three players in central midfield as opposed to the two we had in last season’s 4-4-1-1 which saw us lose midfield battles more often than not in the big games. We would also negate the need to buy another striker as Hernandez and Welbeck would be understudies with Rooney ploughing a lone furrow upfront.
The 4-2-3-1 system will also see Fergie maintain his wing play approach with Valencia, Nani or Young given the freedom to cut in regularly and try get goals for the themselves as they wouldn’t necessary be wingers per se but more of inside forwards, with less defensive responsibilities as opposed to the traditional winger.
If we move to the 4-2-3-1 and play Kagawa in the hole, there’s every reason to believe we will be a potent force both at home and in Europe. The cynic in me however believes that Kagawa, much like Berbatov, Anderson and Veron, is a creative player who Fergie will struggle to use in his best position and at best, he will end up being an OK central midfielder as opposed to a world class playmaker. I hope I am proved wrong. Welcome to Manchester Shinji.
Anderson the playmaker at Porto: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0QoRV7JuQOc