Technically-gifted attacking midfielder with an eye for goal from a fledgling football nation moves from Borussia Dortmund to Manchester United. Ring any bells?
In 2012, Sir Alex Ferguson paid Dortmund up to £17 million for the services of Shinji Kagawa. The Japanese international had been a revelation in the Bundesliga, helping Dortmund to successive titles in 2010/11 and 2011/12.
Back then he was the fulcrum of an exciting dynamic team. The drummer of Jurgen Klopp’s band of ‘heavy metal’ style footballers – keeping time and dictating rhythm – he arrived at United with Klopp’s praise still ringing in his ears.
“Central midfield is Shinji’s best role. He’s an offensive midfielder with one of the best noses for goal I ever saw.”
Once he got to Old Trafford though, he found a rather large obstacle preventing him from fulfilling his potential in Wayne Rooney. United had also brought Robin Van Persie in from Arsenal that season, and with Fergie playing a 4-2-3-1 formation at the time, it was Rooney that dropped back into the number ten role while Kagawa was shunted out to the left wing.
There, he struggled to make any real impact from wide areas, and his United career ended with a whimper in 2014 when he was sold back to Dortmund for half the fee United paid for him.
Fast forward two years, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan is in the same situation – all be it three years older and further on in his development as a player. Klopp rated him just as highly as Kagawa, if not higher.
“When it comes down to it, 99 per cent of people would be happy to have Mkhitaryan’s problems. There is no doubt in my mind that he is one of the most talented players in the world.
“He possesses an incredible combination of speed and technique. There’s very, very few you can say that about.
‘There’s a reason why the world’s best chess players come from Armenia like Mkhitaryan. Yes, other countries product chess players, but Armenia produces far more than could reasonably expect.”
Fergie has moved on and José Mourinho is now at the helm but the Armenian is confronted with the same problem as his Japanese predecessor – Rooney clogging up the hole.
Even though Rooney has been on the slide since Kagawa’s departure, he may be even harder to dislodge this time around. His days of playing as a striker are gone as his pace has deserted him. If his displays in midfield for England this summer are anything to go by, Mourinho won’t want such a ponderous presence in the engine room. Which leaves the number ten position…
When Klopp signed Mkyhitaryan he said the player fit his club “like an arse in a bucket”; now it’s Mourinho’s turn to cram his new backside into the United receptacle.
The question remains though: is Mourinho going to be strong enough to at least begin the process of phasing Rooney out or will Mkhitaryan suffer the same fate as Kagawa?
Stephen Vaughan, Pundit Arena