Shinji Kagawa signed a professional contract with Cerezo Osaka when he was only 16, still in his second year of high school. He did not get to play in any match in 2006, his rookie season, but he made his debut against Sagan Tosu in April 2007 after his club had been relegated to J2 (the Japanese second division).
The young starlet started to increase his appearances after new manager Levir Culpi, appointed in May, discovered his pure talent. Kagawa scored five goals in 35 matches that season, mostly playing as left midfielder. The then 18-year-old also represented Japan at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada.
Kagawa improved even further in 2008 and became the most decisive player of the team. His finishing ability also improved and stats say he netted 16 goals in 35 appearances. Even though he was playing in J2, he was called up for the Japanese national team and participated in the Beijing Olympics as part of Japan U-23.
In 2009, he wore Cerezo’s iconic “number 8” shirt and kept scoring goals from the beginning of the season, showing a natural understanding with his teammate Takashi Inui. Although he was involved in less games toward the end of the season, mostly due to injuries, he scored 27 goals in 44 appearances, to become the top scorer of the league and to help Cerezo to get promoted back to J1.
Kagawa kept his top form up at the beginning of his first J1 season, in 2010, but left the club in May to join Borussia Dortmund. In the first few months of the 2010 season, he had already scored seven goals in 11 matches.
The native of Kobe spent the first four years of his professional career in J2, and so far he has played in the Japanese top flight for only three months. However, his overall performance was impressive enough to catch eyes of the best clubs Europe… The rest, is history.