Most foreign players take a while to settle in a new country and league. Those from the Far East often find Europe a particular struggle. New signing Shinji Kagawa, however, looks like he was born to play in Dortmund.
Shinji Kagawa is fast becoming a fan favourite at Dortmund
Nothing cements a player in the hearts of the Borussia Dortmund faithful more than winning the match against hated rivals Schalke 04 in the Revierderby. Just imagine, then, how loved Shinji Kagawa must be after scoring twice and putting in a man-of-the-match performance against the Royal Blues in Dortmund's first win over the Gelsenkirchen side in three years.
Kagawa's arrival in the summer raised a few eyebrows in Dortmund and when Michael Zorc, Dortmund's sporting director, said the 21-year-old Japan international would score goals for the team, those expressions of surprise were joined by titters of disbelief. Nobody is laughing now. The 350,000-euro deal Dortmund secured for Kagawa's services already looks like one of the bargains of the season.
The former Cerezo Osaka midfielder has hit three goals in five Bundesliga games so far this season as well as a couple in the Europa League to silence the doubters and endear himself to the BVB faithful. They really needn't have been so dismissive: Kagawa hit 55 goals in 123 appearances for his Japanese side before making the move to Europe and had been scouted by both Barcelona and Real Madrid before Dortmund swooped. His goals were the driving force behind Osaka's promotion to the top division in the J-League two seasons ago.
His star is also on the rise in the international arena. After playing through all the levels and age groups in the national set-up, and featuring at the Beijing Olympics as a precocious 19-year-old, Kagawa is now on his way to becoming established as an integral member of the senior Japan side. He's featured 13 times and scored two goals to date and many expect him to be a fixture in the Japanese midfield for years to come.
Kagawa's all-action game is exactly what the BVB fans love
The Kobe-born starlet, who was famously bowled over by the "most beautiful blondes" he'd ever seen on his arrival in Germany [LMAO], is now himself turning heads in one of the most passionate soccer regions in the country. Dortmund fans love all-action players who play like they would die for the team and the slightly built, box-to-box midfielder is made to measure. It appears to be a marriage made in soccer heaven.
Kagawa is a tireless runner with a lung-busting work rate. He can use his stamina and pace to maraud like a man possessed or take his foot off the gas to allow his soccer brain and vision to create space and time for others with a killer pass.
His range and versatility have already reaped rewards and drawn praise from his peers. "The boy plays like an angel," fellow midfielder Nuri Sahin has been quoted as saying. "He's a great addition," according to BVB captain Sebastian Kehl.
BVB's strikers are reaping the benefits of Kagawa's skill
Kagawa's flexibility gives this attack-minded Dortmund team a scary amount of options. He can operate in the hole behind the attackers, arriving late in the box to strike, or can push forward from his floating position to hit dangerous shots from a distance. His strike rate for a young midfielder is enviable and one of the main reasons BVB coach Juergen Klopp is so excited about him.
"Kagawa is an agile and versatile player — an outstanding talent," Klopp enthused after the youngster's two-goal haul against Schalke. "It was a great team effort and Shinji played a huge part in that. His first goal was fantastic."
Mostly right-footed but with a strong left, Kagawa is a striker's dream, known for clever assists with his range of short and long passes from either foot. He can also go it alone and has wonderful ball control and dribbling ability which, coupled with his lightweight frame and speed, makes him a nightmare proposition for beefy, immobile defenders.
Dortmund coach Klopp is full of praise for Kagawa
However, this lightness can also be a disadvantage. Kagawa may not be the strongest player on the pitch and faced with rugged opponents of equal guile and pace, he can often be too easily knocked off the ball. He does need to be caught first, though. As with many Japanese players, he is not the best in the air but with fast, clever feet, Kagawa's job at BVB will not be challenging for balls at corners and free kicks.
He's also a young man with ambition and has been quoted as saying his target is to play in the Champions League. Should his form and inspiration push Dortmund towards those heights, he may get his wish sooner than he expected. If not, it is unlikely that a player of Kagawa's talent will be denied his chance to grace Europe's premier club competition for long.