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.
“He’s not a playmaker,” says Röckenhaus. “He’s a link player who plays more like a second striker and that’s where he has been at his best for Dortmund. He has a very high work rate, is a willing runner and is extraordinarily creative.”
Kagawa models himself on Andres Iniesta, and it shows. Although his preferred role is behind the striker in an attacking three, he can also play on the left as he has done previously for Japan. Like Iniesta, he boasts speed of thought, sumptuous close control and exquisite vision.
“Shinji is a very technical player with great skills,” says his national team coach Alberto Zaccheroni. Like an Iniesta, so good on the ball even when smothered by defenders, Kagawa’s best quality is his "rapidity,” according to Zaccheroni. “By that, I mean his ‘operating speed’ in difficult situations.”
It is a style that brought Kagawa 13 league goals last term and eight the previous injury-interrupted season (not to mention two Bundesliga titles and a German Cup). He is a supplier, too, always looking to thread a short pass through the defence. And, as both Sir Alex Ferguson and Mike Phelan will have noted when they travelled to Berlin to watch him play a pivotal role in destroying Bayern Munich 5-2 in the cup final, his longer passing is spectacular, too.
When Dortmund poured forward on the counter, it was Kagawa who often led the charge, carrying the ball to the centre circle before slipping probing passes through a scattered opposition backline. He