The summer signing from Japan's J-League was the star of the show in last night's Revierderby
As far as Japanese imports go, he came to Germany as a no-name, unashamedly second-rate and for a Fistful of Yen, like those 3inch LCD TVs you can pick up at Aldi for €27.99. Over breakfast at a Dortmund sushi bar before the start of the season, he told reporters his dad worked for Kinki Nippon Railway. He gawped at "the most beautiful blondes" he had ever seen. People born in 1989, the Japanese year of the snake, were "very driven, hate failure and don't mind hardship", he explained. He insisted that we was "not a special Japanese player", a humble statement that was met with the only question a smart, progressive, politically sensitive 21st-century tabloid like Bild could possibly ask: "How the hell are we supposed to tell him apart from [Schalke's Japanese player] Atsuto Uchida?"
A few weeks later, his colleagues were convinced of his merits, however. "The boy plays like an angel," the Borussia Dortmund midfielder Nuri Sahin said after an impressive performance and two strikes against in the Europa League against the Azerbaijani outfit Qarabag Agdam. "He's a great addition," the team's captain, Sebastian Kehl, said. And the sporting director, Michael Zorc, a man who spent years firing blanks in the transfer market before suddenly switching to magic bullets, allowed himself a hint of triumphalism: "People laughed in the summer when I said this guy will score goals for us."
Now they don't. Shinji Kagawa, 21, signed for €350,000 (£294,000) from the J-League new boys Cereza Osaka, a figure that roughly equals one hundredth of Schalke 04's total expenditure on new recruits, was the star of the show in the Veltins-Arena last night. Dortmund absolutely bossed the Revierderby with a combination of high pressing and crisp passing, but the first win in three years against their hated rivals was, first and foremost, down to Kagawa's fine handiwork. The attacking midfielder opened the scoring when he cut through the Royal Blues' defence like a freshly sharpened Hanzo sword, then unleashed a shot that Benedikt Höwedes could only deflect past Manuel Neuer in goal. For his second, he ghosted past the half the Schalke team to artistically steer a fine chip from Jakub Blaszczykowski into the net. "The style of this lively, cultured player reminds one of the filigree writing of the calligraphers," local newspaper Ruhr Nachrichten gushed.
Kagawa had confidently predicted he would score a brace in Sport-Bild interview before the derby but was modesty personified after the event. "I knew how important this game was," he said. "It's just wonderful to see the happy faces of my team-mates. Of course I'm proud that I played a role in making this historic win happen."
Dortmund could have humiliated the home side further after the hapless French defender Nicolas Plestan was sent off for a second bookable offence on the hour mark but after a tough, last-minute 4-3 win at Karpaty Lviv on Thursday, Jürgen Klopp's men were content to conserve energy and add only one more. Kagawa's replacement Robert Lewandowski made it three from a corner before Klaas-Jan Huntelaar grabbed a last minute consolation that really wasn't. And Kagawa's "350,000" was not the only good number for the Black and Yellows on Sunday. Exactly 1604 Borussia supporters had returned their tickets in a widely reported protest against a 50% hike in ticket prices. They made it the first non sell-out derby in decades; missing out on their team's triumph was considered a price worth paying for their principled stand.
"It's wonderful to win such a game on 19 September of all days," the BVB president, Reinhard Rauball, said in reference to the club's founding year 101 years ago. "This is the best day of the year for me."
Schalke, on the other hand, have no points to show from their four league outings and are at the bottom of the Bundesliga. "This is my worst day here," said a dejected Felix Magath, who claimed that "a total lack of confidence" was responsible for his sorry team's malaise. "We played without courage and aggression, it wasn't even a proper derby for us. We played it like a friendly," lamented Neuer, the only Schalke player who had turned up. "We never wanted the ball," Magath said. The 57-year-old manager, it has to be said, has played his role in destabilising what was last season's most obdurate side. A mass clear-out at the back in the summer was followed by frenzied 10-year-old-in-the-candy-shop-buying of expensive, big-name forwards. Defence and midfield were carelessly neglected but somehow his team were supposed to play more and better football. Schalke consequently now resemble the kind of sandwich they might serve up at Taipei's "Modern Toilet" restaurant: there's Neuer on one side, Huntelaar & Raul on the other, with nothing but a stinking mess in between.
• "It could never happen in our wonderfully balanced, financially sound, supporter-loving and best-thing-since-sliced-Schwarzbrot-Bundesliga," a London-based football reporter tut-tutted after three 6-0 thrashings in the Premier League last month. But then it did: Stuttgart thumped Gladbach 7-0 in the Mercedes-Benz-Arena, with Pavel Pogrebnyak scoring a hat-trick. "We can only apologise," said Borussia coach Michael Frontzeck, whose team had been not worthy of the name.
• Meanwhile, a beaming Steve McClaren came out with his first few words in German ("Drei grosse Punkte heute, as they say") on the occasion of Wolfsburg's first win of the season. Diego's fine overhead kick and the irrepressible Edin Dzeko scored in the 2-0 win against Hannover. The Brazilian playmaker might miss Wednesday's "Nordderby" with Hamburg though after falling victim to Constant Djkapa's Nigel De Jong-type kick to the rib-cage.
•Sensational Mainz 05 stayed top by beating Bremen 2-0 in the Weserstadion. Thomas Tuchel's side ran Werder into the ground with 300mph pressing that left Torsten Frings and co gasping for air. Marcel Risse struck first but was "zu kaputt" to remember any details after the final whistle; Leverkusen-bound super-talent Andre Schürrle got the second. "I don't remember a worse game since I've been here," said Frings.
• "It wasn't quite a firework of offensive brilliance from us today," said Lukas Podolski, not one for overstating the case. His side didn't so much park the bus as the whole Dome of Cologne in front of their own goal in the Allianz Arenas and duly managed to come away with the second 0-0 in consecutive years. Bayern looked yet again one-paced without Arjen Robben; three games without a single goal have left them with a meagre five points in ninth place. It's now their worst start in 34 years. Philipp Lahm likened the champions' problems to the new Manic Street Preachers' album. "We're lacking rhythm and creativity," he said.
• Dozens of toilet rolls clogging up the goal mouths in the Millerntor were sadly emblematic of the turgid affair that was Sunday's second big derby. Weeks of concerted de-escalation measures before the first ever Bundesliga meeting of the St Pauli and Hamburger SV at the Millerntor resulted in a stodgy, uneventful game that only sprang into life when Fabian Boll gave the home side the lead 13 minutes from time. Boll, 31, is a man for the difficult cases: as one of the Bundesliga's few semi-professionals, he works part-time as a police detective. Unfortunately, the defensive midfielder was unable to apprehend Mladen Petric, who rescued a point for HSV with a goal-of-the-month screamer at the death. Hamburg's keeper Frank Rost blamed politics for his side's lacklustre effort. "There was this strategy of harmony," he harrumphed. "Ringelpiez mit Anfassen (children dancing and holding hands). All that was missing were pink mini skirts today." After the final whistle, there was no more Ringelpiez, however, let alone pink-skirted man-love: a few hundred supporters clashed violently in the Reeperbahn and around 50 arrests were made.
Results: Frankfurt 0-1 Freiburg, Kaiserslautern 2-2 Hoffenheim, Stuttgart 7–0 Gladbach, Wolfsburg 2–0 Hannover, Bayern 0–0 Köln, Bremen 0-2 Mainz, Leverkusen 1–1 Nürnberg, St Pauli 1–1 Hamburg, Schalke 1–3 Dortmund.