“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 constantly skipped through Bayern's midfield on the break and bisected their defence with incisive passes. The thought of him supplying such a willing runner as, say, Danny Welbeck in the same manner no doubt gave Ferguson pause for thought.
If he does have a weakness, it can be for over-elaboration, suggests Röckenhaus. “He sometimes doesn’t shoot early enough, doesn’t release the ball quick enough. There are moments when the shot is on, but still he looks for the cut-back.”
It is a small blot on his copybook and one few managers are as good at rectifying as Ferguson, who has previously coaxed better decision-making from his most skilful recruits. Kagawa, for his part, is a willing student: “Sir Alex Ferguson has consistently told me to trust him,” he says. “When such a legendary figure says that, it carries a lot of weight.”