Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson is relishing tomorrow night's visit of Real Madrid, but is also looking forward to next season and the impact Shinji Kagawa can have on his team.
The Japanese midfielder scored a hat-trick in United's 4-0 win over Norwich City, a result that opened up a 15-point gap over Manchester City at the top of the Premier League. It also made the 23-year-old the first Asian player to score a hat-trick in the history of the English top flight.
Kagawa had scored just two league goals for United since his £12-million (HK$140 million) close-season move from Borussia Dortmund. But the manner in which he claimed his goals against Norwich is further evidence to support Ferguson's claim that he will need a season in English football before he starts to fulfil his true potential.
"He's a good finisher," said Ferguson. "His second and third goals were terrific. He showed great intelligence for the second one, great composure, and the third was really well executed.
"He's gradually getting his form back, because he missed a period of football when he was injured in October and November, and it set him back a little bit. I think we will see a great player next year; a far, far better player."
Ferguson also conceded it was the decision to move Kagawa from the wing to a more central midfield role that proved the difference between a narrow victory and a comfortable one. "He made a difference for us and he ended up getting a hat-trick. It's been a great day for him."
Kagawa admitted that, like most fans in Europe, his supporters in Japan will be more interested in events tomorrow night, when United host Madrid in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie.
"This will probably be huge news in Japan," said Kagawa of the reaction to his hat-trick. "But in Japan, they are really looking forward to the Real game. So that's what I'm looking forward to as well.
"It will be a fantastic evening … and I want to prepare and be in perfect condition to be able to help the team win. There are many things I have to do to help the team and that's what I'm trying to do," said Kagawa, who has attracted more than 127,600 followers since opening his Twitter account on Tuesday.
In Japan, the Sankei Sport daily said the hat-trick gave the national team added hope before their next World Cup Asian qualifier. Japan, one win away from reaching the 2014 finals in Brazil, will play the away game against Jordan on March 26.
Kagawa's achievement will ensure an especially warm welcome when he visits Japan with his teammates in July. Manchester United will play a friendly with Gamba Osaka in the western city, and some 50,000 fans have already applied to reserve premium tickets.