TOKYO - Manchester United's Shinji Kagawa was hailed by the Japanese press after his club clinched their 20th Premier League title, but the midfielder said he could have contributed more to the historic feat.
Kagawa, the sixth Japanese to play in English football's top flight, was kept out of contention for two months after sustaining a knee injury in October. He has scored five goals in his 18 league outings so far.
"Counting on you for the World Cup, too," a front-page headline in the daily Sports Nippon blared Wednesday, as Japanese media expressed hope he would lead the Blue Samurai to new heights at next year's World Cup finals in Brazil.
But Kagawa himself was more circumspect.
"I was looking to produce even more results. I was injured and I felt things didn't go well easily," he told his home country's media after United beat Aston Villa 3-0 at home Monday sealing the title with four matches left in the season.
"I had a lot of conflict, frustration and worries. In that sense, I think it has been a profound year," the 24-year-old said.
A post-season signing from Borussia Dortmund for 22 million euros (S$35.6 million) last year, Kagawa made an assured start to his Old Trafford career, but his form dipped after his knee injury.
He began to show flashes of his best after returning to the pitch, scoring his first hat-trick against Norwich City in March and playing a creative role in a 2-2 draw at West Ham United last week.
"Honestly, I haven't contributed as much as I did at Dortmund," he said, recalling his role that helped the German club to consecutive Bundesliga titles after moving from J-League club Cerezo Osaka in mid-2010.
"I was even injured. I still don't quite have that feeling of accomplishment," he added.
On a more positive note, Kagawa, citing his United teammate Ryan Giggs's 13 league titles, said: "I've managed to win three in a row. I think my career is bound to get better and better."
He is expected to make his World Cup debut next year after being a non-playing member of the squad which travelled to South Africa in 2010, a tournament in which the Japanese reached the last 16.
"His dream is to be continued," the Nikkan Sports daily said, referring to Kagawa's ambition to win a Champions League title and play in the World Cup.
Japan, who lead their World Cup qualifying group, are on the verge of qualifying for Brazil 2014 with 13 points from six matches and two games left to play.
They are followed by Jordan with seven points, Australia and Oman on six, and Iraq with five points.