It is often the case that signings are initially judged on the basis of quality rather than suitability. This may be the case with Manchester United who, in the capture of Shinji Kagawa and the unsuccessful pursuit of Lucas Moura, are either planning to drastically change their style of play or attempt to mould players into positions they may or not be suitable for.
It will be interesting to see how Sir Alex Ferguson uses Kagawa. The Japanese attacker is different to anybody else in the United squad, a player that looks for space in between the lines rather than simply providing a threat from the flanks. It has been suggested that Kagawa will be played centrally but that would either mean returning to a lone striker system – unlikely given the addition of Robin Van Persie to a healthy crop of strikers – or restricting his attacking freedom in a central midfield position. Should Kagawa be played on either flank he would naturally drift infield, offering a very different threat to the likes of Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia and Nani who are more traditional wingers. Perhaps this is something that Ferguson wishes to develop in his side, but for a manager that has built his team around wingers for a quarter of a century it would be quite a development.
Ferguson’s recent search for playmakers has been intriguing. Last summer’s interest in Wesley Sneijder has been followed by this year’s pursuit of Moura. Both players like to play in the hole behind a striker, with a role focused on creativity and largely devoid of defensive responsibility. Ferguson has suggested that they have been pursued to bolster United’s under-strength midfield, but it is difficult seeing either of them having the positional discipline alongside a solitary holding player. Ferguson has a history of attempting to convert attacking playmakers into deeper conductors, but Anderson has seemingly lost all of the flair that he displayed as a second striker at Porto and it will be interesting to see how he moulds Tom Cleverley, who revelled in an advanced position for England in midweek. All of this makes the relative lack of interest in Luka Modric, a player who has excelled in the role for the last couple of seasons, slightly strange, although this may have been determined by the midfielder’s intent on joining Real Madrid.
Finally, the signing of Van Persie brings an end to four years without a marquee signing. Whether another striker was really Ferguson’s priority is unlikely, but the Dutchman is a wonderful player and securing his transfer ahead of title holders Manchester City will reassure fans that United can still attract the world’s best even as the clubs’ owners continue to burden the club with debt. Ferguson has taken criticism recently due to his support for the Glazer family, but he will know more than anyone that the best way to draw attention away from the boardroom will be through success on the pitch.