Shinji freed, but Moyes’ mindset remains shackled

October 24, 2013 Tags: , Opinion 14 comments
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It was a fleeting moment, but for many inside Old Trafford, one of real beauty: Shinji Kagawa freed from the left and deployed, at long last, in his favoured position at number 10. Legion Manchester United supporters have waited months to see it, and while there were no angels weeping, nor doves soaring high over Manchester, an inner child of joy was unleashed in thousands of grown men who should know better.

Kagawa’s move inside lasted little more than a dozen minutes against Real Sociedad on Wednesday night, but it was a liberation of sorts that brings both catharsis for the player and poses a key question: will the United now manager trust to the creative potential in his midst, or retreat once again into his own limitations?

True, there is little evidence that Kagawa is the solution to United’s problems, save for a feeling that his is a talent too good to waste on the bench or shunt out wide. Then there are those two excellent seasons in the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund, although the Japanese has done little at United to justify significant lionisation. But, then, he has been afforded little opportunity to do so either.

Indeed, such has been the paucity of creative spark from United this season, driven in part by available personnel, but predominantly by David Moyes’ mindset, that Kagawa’s potential impact is exaggerated in absentia.

Yet, for those few minutes against the Basque side Kagawa glided inside, with Wayne Rooney moving forward and the ever-hapless Ashley Young taking a position on the left-wing. Free at last, the playmaker was at liberty to dictate the tempo and direction of United’s play.

For the best part of 80 minutes Kagawa was typically energetic on the left, although it is pointed to note that the most frequent passing combination was with Patrice Evra, his supporting full-back. The role inherently limits the scope to which Kagawa is involved and the areas of the pitch he can probe.

Nor did Kagawa shirk his defensive responsibilities, frequently dropping back into his own half to cover Evra. It is an ethic Moyes predictably likes, but a requirement that also limits Kagawa’s offensive impact.

“I thought it was Shinji’s best game in my time here,” Moyes said in the aftermath of United’s 1-0 victory over Sociedad.

“He hadn’t really found his feet yet but I saw something from Shinji tonight which I hadn’t seen in other games, so I was really pleased. His effort when we didn’t have the ball was fantastic. With Shinji, everybody tells me about his ability and what he has got, but tonight is the first time I’ve really seen Shinji.

“I thought when we put him into the number 10 role, and even after it, he was good with Wayne. His attitude and energy were excellent and I was pleased for him.”

Yet, more than Kagawa’s impact on United’s performances the former Borussia player has become an icon for the style of play many Reds long for. Educated in a long-standing tradition of attacking football, however rosy the nostalgia, the notion of Moyes’ functional defensive-minded football is anathema to many match-going supporters.

It was with horror that many witnessed Moyes haul Rooney off for Chris Smalling against Southampton last weekend, however poor the striker’s performance. Moyes rationalised: protection at set pieces in the final moments of the game was more important than securing a second goal, but it was a move that said so much more about the Scot’s approach.

Despite the bright performance against La Real there are still significant barriers to Kagawa claiming a permanent place in Moyes’ side, not least the Scot’s apparent reluctance to part with a mindset honed over more than a decade fighting the good fight with Everton.

Then there is the question of how to fit Kagawa, Rooney and Robin van Persie into the side without compromising the role of one or more player in what has become a fairly static 4-4-2 formation under the new manager. Given van Persie’s status, and the extraordinarily sycophantic lengths to which Moyes has courted Rooney, it is safe to assume that it is the Japanese that will continue to miss out. He has most weeks since August 2012.

Throw Adnan Januzaj into the mix and United has a creative, flexible and inventive quartet that Moyes has not yet unleashed in tandem. It is doubtful that he ever will.

In fact Kagawa’s deployment in his natural position at ‘10’ has been so rare during nearly 18 months at the club that the playmaker’s departure this January had begun to feel inevitable. It may still be should the 24-year-old once again find himself consigned to the wing, or more likely, to the bench over the coming weeks.

And despite this there is the nagging sense that not only could the Japanese spark life into a run-of-the-mill United side, but help shape Moyes’ thinking away from the defense-first approach required at Everton, to something fundamentally more adventurous at Old Trafford.

After all, Moyes’ opening dozen games are disturbing, not only for the abject manner in which his team has too often performed, and the frustrating manner in which the new man has cast aside those players he does not know or trust, but for the fundamentally cautious approach. It is an instinct that will shape, for better or worse, Moyes’ legacy at Old Trafford.

In that Kagawa has become symbolic of the regime change. The man once described by former coach Jurgen Klopp as “one of the best players in the world” now a square peg in Moyes’ round hole. One bright performance against Sociedad won’t change that, but it could be the beginning of Kagawa’s revival.

If Moyes is open to it.


Jean Paul Sosa - October 24, 2013 Reply

Perfectly written article.

Gent from Kosovo - October 25, 2013 Reply

Love the article as always. The reasoning behind Kagawa’s lack of game time is spot on. If Kagawa doesn’t play no. 10 then why keep (waste) the boy? He doesn’t deserve to sit on the bench or play out of position, better let him go to a place where the manager will appreciate his talents.

Regarding the style of play, I only wish Moyes would at least once unleash the beast. Players interchanging positions frequently, pressing more, short fast passing (yes, the lads have that ability) instead of those wing attacks and crosses on the box and dropping that awful and too-old-and-not worth-it 4-4-2 system.

Then there is the possibility to play with a diamond formation. Rooney and RVP upfront, Kagawa, playing as no. 10 behind the strikers, Januzaj/Young/Nani on the left and Nani/Valencia/Zaha on the right, with just one holding midfielder Carrick/Fellaini or Anderson, Cleverley or Jones.

The main problem with this is that we would be somewhat weak while defending, but our attack play should be outstanding.

Cheers guys

Anomander Rake - October 25, 2013 Reply

shinji, adnan and roo interchanging behind rvp. That would be a good sight to see this weekend.

Moyes'Boyz - October 25, 2013 Reply

Its a team game. Shinji will play where moyes thinks best.

Amnon Zohar - October 25, 2013 Reply

Just like in business when you try to change a culture or impose a philosophy that is alien to the existing ( and illustrious) culture – disaster happens. Moyes is a disaster waiting to happen. His cautious if not defeatist attitude is a prescription for mediocrity. Once mediocrity sets in it is almost impossible to restore the killer instinct and the winning tradition that has been the hallmark of United. As soon as it becomes apparent ( and to me it already is) that United will not compete for a top 4 let alone the championship ( and this means 3 more losses) it is time to pull the plug on Moyes. The fact that Moyes tossed out the entire coaching team and brought his own and that he already alienated RVP, and spent 27 million on a mediocre player like Fellaini and keeps Kagawa and Chica on the bench is evident enough for me. Start the search now!

Damian Garside - October 25, 2013 Reply

I agree with your argument Amnon, but I think that the fans also play a crucial role in the process whereby greatness degenerates into mediocrity. And this has already happened: fans get thrilled by scrappy 1-0 wins over teams we used to tear to shreds a few years ago, and are now talking the talk that produces the context for an idea like that of playing “defensive-minded attackers” which is no longer almost an oxymoron, but is now considered a supreme virtue — as if failing to track back means that you have let the team down completely. Then we will have fans for whom the Unired way — the legacy of the attacking stars we have over the years — and a large number of these wingers — is meaningless. And so it goes, the inexorable decline: .. happy if we just get a trophy …happy if we are in Europe… happy if we beat City in the derby (which would be the supreme irony, because that’s where they were 10 years ago). Oh and the supreme irony — the fans who are integral to this mediocrity (as a gradual downward) process have the cheek to call those who can see that we are on a downward trajectory “plastic fans”. Lovely.

Denton Davey - October 25, 2013 Reply

Anomander Rake @ 12:48: “shinji, adnan and roo interchanging behind rvp.”

Maybe; BUT I have a suspicion that RVP might be squeezed out as #9 by TheWayneBoy with KagawaBunga getting #10.

Indeed, I am wondering whether (or not) RVP might turn out to be a one-season-wonder for UTD.

Since there are seven guys – Rooney, Kagawa, Chicharito, Welbeck, RVP, AdnanJ., Nani – and just four positions, it means either a continuation of “rotation” or else three of these guys are going to have a lot of bench-time.

The key issue facing the new manager seems to be how to get a front-four that clicks together, rather than individually.

The “arithmetic” of this conundrum is complicated by the very obvious fact that the manager has been brown-nosing TheWayneBoy ever since he took over the job from SAF. So, basically that means six guys for three positions – and that’s not including AV25 or AshleyBloodyYoung or Giggs (assuming that his days as a “winger” are now over – a big assumption, methinks !) or Zaha.

It sure seems likely that the attacking-team which ends the season – and the one that starts next season – will be very different from the one that ended last season and started this season.

Jimmy - October 25, 2013 Reply

Shinji should be accorded opportunity to showcase his potential at his best position #10.RVP is during main man but if not banging in the goals then should be rested and will give him a thought of competition in the team.

alex - October 25, 2013 Reply

Well way to go, Kagawa is the most talented player in manu we can’t afford to lose him, he needs to start getting game time under his belt. And what’s all the hype about Roo? He is a great player but I think he is loosing it, he gives away the ball too easily, and AV25 don’t even get me started on that one he is too mediocre. Please lets stick to the current back four so that they can blend and stop waiting for Vidic and Rio to come back, we need to move on

koji - October 25, 2013 Reply

I can’t stand anymore.
I want to watch Shinji play more!!
He doesn’t come to United for warming bench.
If you don’t use Kagawa, sell him to Dortmund please.
His play in Dortmund was beautiful.

chyke bennett - October 25, 2013 Reply

I most agree with a lot of you guys….I think that british coaches are racists sometimes….why on earth will moyes be benching that great lad kagawa….he’s the most creative player in united’s squard….why can’t moyes stick wif this present back four play carrick and cleverly as holding mid, kagawa inf ront of them, roo and adnan alternating. On the flanks and vp up front….as for me I think anshley, nani and antonio have all lost it…but if u must pick one let it be antonio…nani is just a clown….moyes shopuld pick a Brain…^

Krish Pillay - October 25, 2013 Reply

Kagawa was earmarked for the #10 role,seeing that SAF already envisaged Rooney leaving.With the Moyes-Rooney love-in,SK demoted

twisted blood - October 25, 2013 Reply

Free Shinji!!!

Even with Berba, I didn’t want him to leave for the joy of seeing him play. But with Shinji, when he perfectly plays the ball onto someone’s head, or one-twos with Roon, you just get glimpses that make you dream for him to get a run in the team or an injury to one of the other 2 that don’t fit into 3…..

ask - April 20, 2015 Reply

Great article.

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