Kagawa returns to Dortmund
Borussia Dortmund have resigned Shinji Kagawa to a four-year deal, to free the 25-year-old Japanese midfielder from his Manchester United misery. If the reported fee of around 8 million euros is correct, it is about half the price the Premier League club paid for Kagawa two years ago. BVB fans are celebrating the deal with joy and excitement, as the fan favourite returns to the Westfalenstadion.
This is a transfer with sentimental value. "The door is always open for Shinji," said Dortmund CEO Hans Joachim Watzke when Kagawa left in 2012, maybe with the intuition that he wouldn't find the success he was looking for in England.
Kagawa was one of the leading figures in Dortmund's rise to the top of German football, part of the team that won the club's first Bundesliga championship in 15 years and, the season after, the league and cup double. Thus the shy Kagawa always was remembered fondly by fans and many were wishing for a return at some point.
In his first spell at the club, nobody expected the young kid from Cerezo Osaka, who initially cost Dortmund the ridiculous amount of 350,000 euros due to a buyout clause, to have the impact he had. His ability was confirmed on Match Day 4 of 2010-11, as Kagawa scored a brace in the Revierderby vs. Schalke.
From that moment, Dortmund and Kagawa was a love story that lasted two seasons -- or one and a half to be exact, as the midfielder missed the second half of his first campaign due to a broken foot picked up during the Asian Cup -- and provided 28 goals and 16 assists in 79 games from the No. 10 position.
But three titles and Champions League football at BVB weren't enough glory for Kagawa, who dreamed of bigger and better things and, having grown up watching the English Premier League, made a move over to Manchester.
His departure was not without sadness. "We lay crying in each others arms for 20 minutes," Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp explained later on. Kagawa was also influenced by his family to transfer to England.
In the end it was heartbreaking to see what happened to him in England. Played out of position in a team that never had the players to suit his style, Kagawa was clearly lost and never managed to reproduce the skills he once used to show each week in the Westfalenstadion.
Kagawa returns with two more or less wasted years in his career. It's better to not think about the development he would have had, had he stayed at Borussia Dortmund. In a way similar to Nuri Sahin's return last year, Kagawa's is surrounded by a lot of sentiment, which begs the question: How much sense does the transfer actually make?
Klopp explained on Friday that BVB are "holding their eyes open," as they have to consider the tough weeks ahead and a lengthy current list of injuries. However, it is hard to tell if Kagawa can be of immediate help.
A fair prediction is that he might need half a season to be the player he once was, although a player of his ilk has a certain level of class that should always be of help, even if he is not on top of his game.
Indeed, that area of the pitch isn't where the black and yellows need help the most. It is in holding midfield, with Oliver Kirch, Nuri Sahin and Ilkay Gundogan missing, that is in dire need of creativity. Under Louis van Gaal, Kagawa was tried in central midfield, but who else than Klopp knows better that he only works as a No. 10?
In the short and long term, it was a blessing that Klopp tried out Henrikh Mkhitaryan on the flank because it means that he and Marco Reus can play around Kagawa in offensive midfield, if the 4-2-3-1 system is applied. Alternatively, though, maybe the lack of creativity in the centre of the pitch can be fixed by playing the Armenian a little deeper, next to Milos Jojic and Sebastian Kehl or Sven Bender.
Either way, Kagawa gives more options, and since he still knows a lot of teammates from his first spell at the club, his adaptation shouldn't take too long. It will be Klopp's task to rebuild his confidence, but the BVB coach should know how to do that.
Of course, there is a lot of optimism around, and why not? It was a sight to behold to see Kagawa play for Borussia Dortmund three years ago, and I don't see why it can't go back to those days in a few months.
And even if things don't work out in the short term, this transfer might also be BVB's way of long-term planning. As Reus once was more or less the replacement for Kagawa, it might be the other way around soon, should the Dortmund-born forward's future lie away from the city.
As a consequence of all this, 20-year-old midfielder Jonas Hofmann will go to Mainz on a one-year loan deal, as the talented youngster sees his chances for playing time at Dortmund diminish.
But for now, Dortmund fans are welcoming back Kagawa with open arms, and hoping he will find joy and success here again.
Stefan Buczko covers Borussia Dortmund for ESPN FC. Twitter: @StefanBuczko.