When broken down to its simplest dynamics, the art of positional tactics in football are quite rudimentary, with the most base positions being forwards, midfielders, defenders and a goalkeeper.
However, when you delve into the inner complexities of the game, it’s here that some players thrive. It’s here that you’ll find Shinji Kagawa.
The Italians gave birth to the role of the ‘Trequartista’ in the 1960s, as a way of developing a counter-attack against the Brazilians who were, at the time, offensively unplayable.
Whomever does assume the role of the trequartista makes their camp behind the striker(s) in the third quarter of the pitch, hence the name.
In the last decade or so, the use of such a player has gone slightly out of fashion in large parts of the world. Instead, the more conventional 4-4-2 formation became the norm, a tactic that leaves ‘The Hole’ free of occupation.
That isn’t to say the trequartista dies out entirely as some teams undoubtedly kept faith in the method. Some examples of great players in the position would be Johan Cruyff, Michel Platini, Alfredo Di Stefano, Valentino Mazzola and Francesco Totti as well as others.
With a trequartista in play, a side has a catalyst between midfield and attack, a player that can orchestrate the attack whilst holding the ability to devastate defenses themselves. Sound familiar?
In two seasons with Borussia Dortmund, Shinji Kagawa made 71 appearances for the Yellow and Blacks, scoring 29 goals and making 16 assists in the process.
With Robert Lewandowski or Lucas Barrios operating as a lone striker and either Kevin Großkreutz, Jakub Błaszczykowski or Mario Goetze offering options to the wings, Kagawa was permitted to play the role of puppeteer while posing a threat himself.
At Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson appears to be using the Japanese international in a very similar fashion. With Wayne Rooney now out of action due to a gashed thigh, it seems likely that Robin van Persie will act as a lone striker, or the Red Devils’ answer to Lewandowski.
That said, Kagawa is no longer the only one of his kind as the trequartista makes a terrific comeback. In the modern game, the likes of David Silva, Santi Cazorla, Christian Eriksen and of course versatile greats such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, have all shown capability in the role.
With the standard 4-4-2 slowly dying away, the use of a man behind the attacking line appears to be ‘the new black’, and Shinji Kagawa is merely the tip of the oncoming iceberg.