TEAMtalk guest Ross Dunbar feels Shinji Kagawa has the strength of character to make a successful return from his injury absence.
Manchester United star Kagawa is nearing a return to full fitness having been out with a knee injury since October - and his availability could provide Sir Alex Ferguson with a shot in the arm in 2013's bid for domestic and European silverware.
United fans need not worry about Kagawa's resolve following his first-team absence as it has already been tested before in his young career. His first season at Borussia Dortmund, following his £350k move from Cerezo Osaka, was disrupted by a metatarsal injury, sustained whilst on Asian Cup with the Japanese national team. Up until that point in the middle of January, Kagawa had been on fire and was taking the league by storm, as a rampant and flamboyant Dortmund side cruised to a 10-point lead by the winter shutdown. The attacking midfielder, who was 21 when he moved to Germany, hit an impressive eight goals in 17 league matches and announced his arrival to the Bundesliga is the best way possible, scoring at the home of their arch-rivals.
Kagawa's pace, vision and dynamism made him an ideal fit for Dortmund's high-pressing 4-2-3-1 system that also included a teenage Mario Gotze in his first full campaign in the starting XI. It was the Kobe-born player, though, who took to the Revierderby like a duck-to-water and scored either side of the interval, both with left-footed finishes.
Jurgen Klopp's side lost the first and last match of the hinrunde and their form would be affected by the absence of Kagawa for the rest of the season. His fractured metatarsal left a crucial void in the Dortmund attack, with Robert Lewandowski also making his first small steps to success in Yellow, but as a short-term fix for Kagawa. They eventually held-off a late push from Bayer Leverkusen to collect their first title in nine years.
Kagawa was the jewel in the Dortmund crown and his steady return in the first half of last season paved the way for a blistering run of form in the ruckrunde. From December, until May, he scored 10 league goals and assisted a further eight in 20 games. In Dortmund's smash-and-grab win in Munich, he set up team-mate Gotze for the winning goal and inspired the Ruhr giants to a 5-2 win over FC Bayern in the DFB Pokal final - his final game for the club - with one goal and one assist.
His overall record in Dortmund colours shows his level of importance in the club's recent success with 29 goals and 16 assists in 70 games, in all competitions, since his arrival from the J-League. His final swansong in Berlin was watched by Sir Alex Ferguson who decided fork out £12million up-front, rising to £17m depending on his success at Old Trafford.
Commercially he is a phenomenal asset, while his crafty touches and skill enthralled the Red Devils support as he seemed to make an easy transition to the fast-paced Premier League. Before his injury, Kagawa scored twice and set up another in his six fleeting appearances so far this season, but question marks still remain over his role in the team, which is usually structured in a 4-4-2 formation.
The 24-year-old has been recovering from a problematic knee injury at Carrington since October but returned to full training last week and is expected to be ready for the start of 2013, as United prepare an assault on domestic and continental competitions. The disappointing form of Wayne Rooney may still allow Kagawa to play in an attacking playmaker role, behind Robin van Persie - or possibly his former Dortmund team-mate Lewandowski if he arrives next season.
Scoring goals is far from a problem for United, going by recent form, but in Europe, Kagawa will be an asset for Ferguson's side, securing possession in forward positions and adding to their pressing game.
If this season's evidence is anything to go by in Europe, the Japan internationalist's qualities should make him a stand-out starter in the late Champions League rounds.
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