Manchester United Signs Shinji Kagawa, Captures Black Mamba of Its Own (With Apologies to Kobe Bryant)

Manchester United Signs Shinji Kagawa, Captures Black Mamba of Its Own (With Apologies to Kobe Bryant)Sorry, Kobe Bryant. I’m not trying to take your well-earned nickname and hand it to someone else, but Manchester United snagged a black mamba of its own in signing Shinji Kagawa.

On Tuesday, the Premier League runner-up announced that it reached an agreement to sign the Japanese attacker from German club Borussia Dortmund. Kagawa’s £17 million ($26.3 million) move to Old Trafford made him Japan’s biggest star almost overnight. He fufilled the dreams of millions of that country’s soccer fans by earning a place at one of the Premier League’s glamor clubs.

Three factors make comparisons between Kagawa and the L.A. Lakers’ star spring to mind. First, he hails from the city of Kobe, Japan. Second, he was born in 1989 — the Japanese year of the snake. Third, he plays like the most lethal of the reptilian creatures.

Intelligent, lightning quick and equally comfortable anywhere in the attack, Kagawa has the ability to pop into the smallest space and punish the opposition. Not only can he score goals, as his 29 in 41 Bundesliga games prove, he creates them for others (13 over two seasons) as well.

Analysts say the Japanese star was the best attacking midfielder in German soccer over the last two years, but teammate Mats Hummels paid him the ultimate complement, the Mail reports.

“He’s simply a great footballer,” Hummels said. “His movement is insane. I wouldn’t like to play against him.”

Kagawa’s sale should prove to be a boon for both clubs. Dortmund brought him to the Bundesliga from the Japanese second division club Cerezo Osaka. It paid just £300,000 ($464,000) for him back in August 2010, and all he did help the club conquer German soccer and knock Bayern Munich off its perch atop the domestic game.

Dortmund will use over half the transfer fee to improve its infrastructure. It is much more likely to reach its long-term goals instead of being crushed under the weight of debt, as was the case just five years ago.

Manchester United may have lost to Chelsea FC in the race to sign Belgian wizard Eden Hazard. But it signed Kagawa, a player whose considerable achievements came in a stronger league, for about half as much as Chelsea paid for its future star. Like any club, United needs to strengthen, but it does not seem interested in spending £30 million ($46.4 million) on the Dimitar Berbatovs and Wayne Rooneys of the world on an annual basis.

Kagawa’s presence will allow United to play any number of styles and systems. He can play out wide, just behind a lone striker or underneath a pair of front-men. The danger he poses should help players like Rooney, Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck and Antonio Valencia flourish, as opponents must devise plans to stop Kagawa. As a new generation of young players matures, manager Sir Alex Ferguson could make United pressure the opposition more than it has in recent years. Kagawa is well versed in such a system, winning praise for his tactical discipline and willingness to do the dirty work in defense.

The 23-year-old is already a household name in Japanese, German and some European soccer circles. Playing for Manchester United will make him a world star, as television audiences for big Premier League games dwarf those of other leagues. He was already considered the best Japanese player playing in Europe, but the United move may have made him the biggest Asian star on the planet. Kagawa is well aware of the challenge that lies ahead, but it does not seem to phase him.

“I know that I have to up my level but I’ll never run away from a challenge,” he said.

“I was born in 1989, the Japanese year of the snake,” the Guardian reports Kagawa once said. “People born under the snake are very driven, hate failure and don’t mind hardship.”

One thing that sets Bryant apart from just about any other athlete is his insatiable hunger desire for success and constant improvement. Kagawa came to the right place to create a legacy for himself. But he will have to match the appetite for success that real “Black Mamba” has in order take hold of the nickname.

Have a question for Marcus Kwesi O’Mard? Send it to him via Twitter at @NESNsoccer, NESN Soccer’s Facebook page or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

Photo via Facebook/shinjikagawa

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