Manchester United, AC Milan, or perhaps another European soccer powerhouse. These are just some of the potential options being pondered right now by Samurai Blue and Borussia Dortmund midfielder Shinji Kagawa, who recently helped lead his German club to its second straight Bundesliga title.
With his Dortmund contract running out next season, local papers are predicting the Japanese midfielder could be the subject of a bidding war among major European clubs. So far, however, the diminutive playmaker has remained mum on his future.
This season, Kagawa played in 29 of 32 league matches, scoring 13 goals and assisting on seven. He ranked second on his team in goals scored (after forward Robert Lewandowski) and assists (behind midfielder Jakub Błaszczykowski). Because German national team midfielder Mario Gotze got hurt and only played in 15 matches, Kagawa became the engine that powered Dortmund’s offense. While the team’s style had tended to be a “hard” straight-line attack, Kagawa brought a “kinder, gentler” more finesse approach. Kagawa’s elusive moves gave the team’s offense much more diversity.
But unlike last season, when the team and Kagawa were at their best in the first half of the league, both Dortmund and Kagawa struggled at the beginning of this season. In the UEFA Champions League, the team bombed in the first round and failed to qualify for the UEFA Europa League. The team’s busy schedule was wearing out the players and, as a result, they were bumped out of the top spot by rival Bayern Munich in the first half of the Bundesliga.
When Kagawa returned to Japan last October for international matches in Kobe and Osaka, he admitted he wasn’t at his best.
“I’m not in the best mental condition,” he revealed. “We are under pressure as champions this season, although this is normal in Europe.”
His tired and anxious appearance left a strong impression on reporters. But then things started looking up in the second half of the season.
“I got by because I believed things would go well in the second half if we persisted,” he said, looking back.
Losing in the UEFA Champions League was not ideal but at least it eased up the team’s schedule, and Ilkay Gundogan filled the void left by midfielder Nuri Sahin, who transferred to Spanish club Real Madrid. Dortmund soon regained its stride, going undefeated in the second half with 13 wins and two draws, shooting up the standings to clinch another Bundesliga title.
For Kagawa, who missed time during the 2011 season due to injuries sustained in the AFC Asian Cup, this season was the first time he experienced the championship title race in Germany. He said he felt the pressure build over the last few games. While he was ecstatic about his team’s title, he hasn’t let the league victory go to his head.
“When I see the levels of higher-ranking teams, I get really scared,” he said. “Real Madrid and Barcelona continuously play games at these (high) levels, as if it’s totally normal. I can’t imagine what that’s like.”
Meanwhile, local papers are already naming teams that have shown interest in signing Kagawa, including strongholds such as Manchester United and AC Milan.
“This year has been satisfying because I’ve been through a lot,” Kagawa said. “I’ve been able to play with a great team, great teammates, and in a great stadium in Dortmund. But this isn’t everything.”
The crafty midfielder has been offered a contract extension with Dortmund, but hasn’t yet decided whether to stay on.
“I’d like to think about it for a while,” he said, weighing his future.
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