Today Manchester United sealed the signature of Shinji Kagawa, a player who has been instrumental in Borrusia Dortmund’s recent Bundesliga domination and a signing as close to perfect as any.
In Kagawa Manchester United have a world class player with little hype heaped upon his shoulders in comparison to the similarly talented Gotze and Hazard. A key player in Dortmund’s effort to keep the Bundesliga title out the grasp of the traditional teutonic powerhouses Bayern Munich for two seasons in a row. A player in the last year of his contract and “only” on around £20k a week (38% of a Djourou), so even if his wages were quadrupled he would still arguably be a steal when compared to the aforementioned Hazard’s oligarchic £170k a week. A player who has performed on the biggest stages, putting Bayern to the sword in the German cup final. And finally Kagawa at only 23, is a player with vast potential who has already achieved the consistency of a veteran in one of the worlds toughest leagues.
All things considered you would assume that Fergie would be busy deflecting praise for such a managerial master stroke with the steady, nonchalant ease he masticates his way through a family pack of Wrigleys. However the predominant reaction, as with any Asian player, has been a knowing tap of the proverbial nose. “you sly manc bastards, you’re going to be bollocks deep in a big ol’ bento box of that sweet commercial Yen”.
It is rare that players of any other nationality have the same moronic assumption cast upon their signings, and when it is mentioned there is no suggestion that it is the sole reason for their recruitment. For example when Cristiano Ronaldo sealed his £80 million transfer to Real it was mentioned that £80 million wasn’t that much really, because they would sell quite a lot of shirts, likewise with Beckham’s transfer to Real. However at no point was it suggested that the undeniable marketability of these two players was the overriding reason for their signings, an ugly assumption which seems to follow any Asian signing today.
It seems bizarre to remember that it was only the success of Park Ji “three lung” Sung at Manchester United in 2005 that dispelled the blatant racism spouted by pundits that “Asian players can’t adapt to the premier league”. Racism justified with “Asian’s aren’t strong enough, there are too many cultural differences…”. Over 2 billion people cast aside with one cack handed statement, a statement eerily reminiscent of the following quote from Crystal Palace manager Ron Noades in 1991:
“The problem with black players is they’ve great pace, great athletes, love to play with the ball in front of them…when it’s behind them it’s chaos. I don’t think too many of them can read the game. When you’re getting into the midwinter you need a few of the hard white men to carry the athletic black players through”
The sad fact is that this statement was far from an isolated incident, with black players derided throughout the 1980’s with statements such as “they’ve no bottle” “they don’t like the cold” “you don’t want too many of them in your defence”. These statements should seem ridiculous to any educated adult, yet we retain our inherent prejudice when it comes to Asian players. Any article on Kagawa’s imminent arrival will look to quell the nerves of fans with reassurances about his strength, and might even mention how he’s settled in to Germany so well.
There’s no doubt that Asian player’s can be commercially lucrative, but only when they are also excellent players. A requirement no different than that of white or black players. Players like Rooney, Wilshere, Drogba and Henry are the faces of Gillette and Pepsi because they are supremely skilled athletes who people aspire to be. It may well be that Kagawa will bring a bountiful Yen harvest for United’s Asian market, but that will be because he’s fucking great, not just because he’s Asian.
by Mike Robertson, @Miketweetgood
The quote from Ron Noades was taken from the excellent “Soccernomics” by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski and the following article (and side links) on Asians in football details the ongoing efforts to erase the prejudices faced http://www.kickitout.org/228.php