Japanese soccer player Shinji Kagawa waves upon his arrival at the airport in Thessaloniki, Greece, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)
THESSALONIKI — Former Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa signed with Greek club PAOK Thessaloniki on Wednesday.
The club, which won the Greek title in 2019 for the first time since the mid-1980s, said the Japan international signed an 18-month contract.
Kagawa has scored 31 goals in 97 appearances as an attacking midfielder for Japan and was a regular for the national team at the 2014 and 2018 World Cup tournaments.
PAOK is currently in fourth place in the 14-team Greek league with 36 points. Olympiakos leads with 48 points.
Kagawa was born on March 17, 1989 in Kobe, Japan. He fell in love with football from a young age and went through the youth academies at Marino, Kobe and Miyaki Barcelona, before joining Cerezo Osaka at the age of 17. He made his first professional debut with the latter.
In 2009 he was the top scorer in the Japanese second division, this feat coming before he even turned 20, and his form caught the eyes of many European clubs.
In 2010 he made 11 appearances in the Japanese top flight, scoring even seven goals. It was after that when Borussia Dortmund decided to invest in his talent and make him a resident of Westphalia.
His first season away from Japan in the demanding Bundesliga championship was excellent. He made 28 appearances, scoring 12 goals and contributing two assists, as the German club went on to win the league title. Kagawa adapted immediately, but the 2011-12 season was the season where his talents really shone bright.
The Japanese became one of the cornerstones of the Jürgen Klopp’s excellent team that won the double in Germany, scoring 17 goals and proving 14 assists in 43 appearances. At the time, Kagawa was one of the top players in the world in his position and Manchester United decided to make a move to bring him to Old Trafford.
In his first season with the Red Devils, Kagawa won the Premier League title under Sir Alex Ferguson, playing 26 times in all competitions, scoring six goals and contributing six assists.
He stayed in Manchester until August 2014, having managed to wear the United jersey 57 times, scoring six goals and providing 10 assists, before moving back to Westphalia and re-joining Dortmund.
Kagawa stayed at Borussia until 2019, also having a six-month loan spell at Besiktas. In total with the Yellow and Blacks, he made 216 appearances, scoring 60 goals and providing 55 assists. He was also a German Cup winner in the 2016-17 season.
In the summer of 2019 he left Germany and traveled to Spain to wear the Real Zaragoza jersey in the Segunda Division. He played 34 times for the Spanish team, scoring four times and providing six assists, helping the club win promotion to La Liga via the Play Offs.
Zaragoza could not afford the player’s contract, however, and released him last summer. Kagawa did not rush to sign somewhere despite the plethora of proposals on the table, and after a spell without a club, he accepted PAOK’s proposal in January 2021.
Kagawa has also been a key member of his country’s national team since the age of 19 up until the present day. He has played 97 times for Japan, scoring 31 goals, while he has also won the Pan-Asian Cup of 2011 and has played in the 2014 and 2018 World Cups.
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