"Money doesn't score goals" is a common platitude among German football fans and while cash can certainly contribute to victory, Shinji Kagawa is proof that a chequebook is not the only route to success.
Borussia Dortmund paid €350,000 as compensation rather than a transfer fee to Cerezo Osaka for the 21-year-old attacking midfielder this summer, around 1% of FC Schalke 04's €35m summer outlay for players like Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. The two Ruhr rivals came head to head a week ago, and Schalke – without a point from their previous three Bundesliga games – were beaten 3-1 at home, Kagawa scoring twice in the first hour before a late Huntelaar consolation.
"Before the match, everything was against us – Schalke's previous results and their desire to compensate for their bad start by winning against us," said Dortmund coach Jürgen Klopp. "
We knew that Shinji Kagawa was a really good footballer. We did not know that he would adjust this quickly. The boy is 21, he's left his family at home and his only companion is his translator. Now he has written his name into the history books."
Kagawa has already become a firm fans' favourite, with his No23 shirt outselling all others. Although he had a record of seven goals in 11 J-League appearances this year, including a career first free-kick in his farewell game – having previously helped Cerezo to promotion – Kagawa was expected to be a fringe player at Dortmund. Instead, after a strong pre-season, he began the campaign as a regular starter.
He announced himself with two goals on his continental debut, the 4-0 UEFA Europa League play-off defeat of Qarabağ FK, and his presence ensured the opening 4-3 Group J win at FC Karpaty Lviv was shown live in Japan, setting them up for Thursday's visit of Sevilla FC. On the international stage, having missed the cut for Japan's FIFA World Cup squad, Kagawa scored the winner in their first post-finals game, a 1-0 defeat of Paraguay on 4 September.
It was a disappointment with Japan, three defeats at the 2008 Olympics, that sparked Kagawa's ambition to move abroad, and his confidence was shown by his near-perfect prediction before the Schalke game: "Two-nil in our favour and I will score twice." In his homeland, journalists have compared him to Andrés Iniesta, a comparison of which he approves. Indeed he left his Kobe home at 13 to join FC Miyagi Barcelona, a famed Sendai-based academy noted for their attacking coaching principles where sometimes trainees are banned from passing so they can only dribble and shoot.
Dortmund first invited Kagawa to Germany last December after being tipped off by a scout and in May he agreed a three-year deal. The club's sporting director Michael Zorc said: "We knew right away Shinji had great potential and would score goals, but not that it would happen so fast. His development is outstanding. We have 17 players in his age group in our squad. That made it easier for him."
One of those in his age group, fellow midfielder Nuri Şahin, said after the Schalke game: "The whole team played very, very well today, but with his two goals, Shinji was the outstanding man. He is so young, and played so well, that is just wicked. To me, it is one of the most beautiful wins." Kagawa himself added: "
Seeing the joyous faces of my team-mates after the match was especially great." They will hope for a repeat against Sevilla.
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