A star of Asian football and conqueror of the Bundesliga, Shinji Kagawa is ready to explode onto the English game.
In the parks of Kobe in Japan, a young Shinji Kagawa dreamed of playing on the biggest footballing stage even as he was kicking at an improvised goal between two tree stumps.
Having migrated from the Japanese second division to the Theatre of Dreams via Borussia Dortmund, his yearning for a platform commensurate with his talents is fulfilled. And believe us when we tell you: they are some talents.
Kagawa arrived in Europe completely unheralded, plucked from Cerezo Osaka (who he joined at 17 as the first Japanese schoolboy to turn professional) for the unfeasibly modest sum of €350,000. He landed in Dortmund, a bustling town in the dense and industrial Ruhrland, 5,722 miles from home.
The first time he visited the city with his parents, he complained not of culture shock but of "cold shock": in Borussia’s stadium, as he watched his future team in action, it was -14ºC. But the heaving Sudtribüne and vibrancy of Jürgen Klopp’s young team convinced him it was the destination for him, at least in the short term.
Once settled, Kagawa endeared himself in record time to the Dortmund faithful: his fourth league match for the club was at the home of arch-rivals Schalke 04 in what is dubbed in Germany “Die Mutter aller Derbies” – the mother of all derbies. In a glittering performance, he demonstrated so much of what his game is about, scoring twice in a 3-1 win.
Both goals were scored almost nonchalantly with his weaker left foot – and saw him hauled up on the away fans’ shoulders at the end of the match, a moment Kagawa says he will never forget.
For Freddie Röckenhaus, journalist, filmmaker and authority on all things Dortmund, it was also an unforgettable performance. For him, though, Kagawa’s contribution goes much further: for two seasons, barring a frustrating spell on the sidelines in the second half of the 2010/11 season when he returned from winning the Asian Cup with a broken metatarsal, Kagawa has been a crucial part of Dortmund’s demanding, collective, high-pressing game.