LONDON: Manchester United moved quickly to tie up the signing of Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund after being ambushed by Chelsea in their pursuit of Eden Hazard.
After completing his current World Cup duties the 23-year-old Japan midfielder must pass a medical at Old Trafford and obtain a UK work permit. United are confident these are mere formalities and will be sorted by the end of the month. The fee is a basic £12m which could rise to £17m depending on success and appearances.
The deal will excite United’s Asian supporters. United claim their fanbase has almost doubled in the past five years to reach 659m “followers” globally. Asia accounts for 325m.
Coincidentally, Kagawa arrives just as uncertainty hovers over the future of South Korea midfielder Park Ji-Sung — though United’s commercial director, Richard Arnold, has always denied that players are signed with more than their ability on the pitch in mind.
He said: “Our popularity in certain countries or regions may depend, at least in part, on fielding certain players from those countries or regions but we don’t sign players to sell shirts. We are reliant on 25 players and they are all massive stars. We have 25 George Clooneys.
“When you look at the success we’ve seen in Asia, it isn’t down to any one player or person. For Manchester United it’s more than any one player. It was more than George Best, it was more than Bryan Robson, it was more than David Beckham, more than Cantona, more than Park.”
Kagawa is likely to take over the attacking midfield role which Ryan Giggs has been pressed, despite his years and beyond his energies, into filling for the past two seasons.
As for Hazard, Lille’s promising young Belgium had indicated before the end of the season that he was bound for Manchester (without specifying either United or new champions City). However he was swayed into accepting a late offer from Chelsea after watching them beat Bayern in Munich in the Champions League Final.
Hazard, who signed off at Lille with a last-match hat-trick against Nancy, believes he has better prospects of a regular starting place at Chelsea, whoever may be manager, than at United.
At least Ferguson’s interest in Hazard has signalled a will to rejuvenate the squad. Everton’s outstanding Leighton Baines, England’s reserve leftback, is a target to replace Patrice Evra who looked dangerously vulnerable against fast-running wingers this past season.
United may also create space for new blood with the likely departure of Dimitar Berbatov and possibly Nani.
The Bulgarian was a spectator for much of last season; he does not suit United’s tactics or energetic style. Portugal winger Nani, restricted mainly to lively bit-part performances, has said he will consider whether he sees a future at United on his return from Euro 2012. Ferguson’s attitude may depend on whether he finds a ‘new Hazard’ out in the market place.
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