Dortmund - Very soon the famous chant of "Kaaaaaagawa Shinji" will once again be heard reverberating around Borussia Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park and its iconic Südtribune. After two frustrating years at Manchester United FC, Shinji Kagawa is back where he belongs. In his homeland of Japan, he is a hero. At BVB, he’s the people’s darling and, in light of Marco Reus' being ruled out for up to four weeks, the return of the fan favourite couldn't have been better timed.
First professional contract in Japan
Osaka, Dortmund, Manchester, Dortmund. It has been a fine career thus far for the 25-year-old, who developed into one of the world’s outstanding midfielders under the tutelage of Jürgen Klopp between 2010 and 2012. After rejoining the club on 31 August 2014, he was welcomed as if he’d never been away. Within hours of his signing, several thousand shirts had been sold with ‘Kagawa’ on the back, and the number seven he is set to make so famous.
Kagawa began his professional career in the Japanese second division with Cerezo Osaka in 2006. Three years later, his league-high 27 goals played a key part in the club’s promotion to the J-League, the nation's top flight.
His goalscoring exploits in the domestic leagues brought him international recognition. Firstly, he represented the Japanese U-20 and U-23 sides, and then took part in the Beijing Olympic Games in August 2008 - only three months after his debut for the full international side. This summer in Brazil, Kagawa brought his number of international caps up to 58 by competing in the FIFA World Cup.
In Japan, however, the most popular leagues aren’t domestic, but instead the Bundesliga and the Premier League. Ahead of the 2010/11 season, Kagawa followed the path of so many of his compatriots and opted to join the Bundesliga and Borussia Dortmund, a club on the verge of making history. However, it would have been fanciful even then to imagine the eventual impact Kagawa would end up making.
He became the living proof of Dortmund’s successful strategy in the transfer market and was a coup for all involved. "With Shinji, we’re getting an exciting all-round attacker with an eye for goal," sporting director Michael Zorc noted at the time. "Our latest young talent really has the potential to make his breakthrough in the Bundesliga." He could hardly have known how prophetic his words would prove.
Darling of the people
With his creativity, speed and eye for goal, Kagawa played himself into the hearts of Dortmund fans in record time and as early as Matchday 2 of the 2010/11 season, he was winning the BVB faithful over. In the fiercely-contested Ruhrpott derby with FC Schalke 04, the young Japanese promised before the game that he would score twice - and did just that. When the team arrived back in Dortmund, he was singled out for rapturous applause.
It was the start of a fruitful relationship. In his 49 Bundesliga appearances, Kagawa was involved in 35 goals (21 goals, 14 assists), as well as writing his name into BVB legend with his performance in the DFB Cup final. His third-minute goal laid the foundations for a 5-2 Dortmund triumph over FC Bayern München in his last game for the club.
On Saturday afternoon when Dortmund host SC Freiburg, Kagawa could make his return, filling in for the injured Reus. It is a happy coincidence that his last Bundesliga appearance, in May 2012, also came against Christian Streich’s men from the Black Forest. Running out against them on Saturday will be his 50th Bundesliga game - and definitely not his last.
We've got the highlights of Shinji Kagawa's last Bundesliga appearance against Freiburg right here, courtesy of the official Bundesliga YouTube channel: