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Henrikh Mkhitaryan: From Bundesliga best player to Manchester United struggler

Friday 29th December 2017

Henrikh Mkhitaryan became a champion from age 17 when he won his first league title with boyhood club FC Pyunik in the 2005-06 Season. He went on the win three more consecutive league titles with the Armenian Premier League side. His performances during that four-year period with the club led to his head coach Vardan Minasyan tipping him to rise to great heights in the game. Commenting on his abilities, he said, “He can win games on his own. He seizes control at the crucial moment and scores for fun.”

It was only natural that Mkhitaryan made the move to a bigger club soon. He moved first to Metalurh Donetsk in the Ukrainian Premier League in the summer of 2009 and went on to score in his debut for his new club. By the next season, he was made the club’s captain, aged just 21. He made 45 appearances for the club scoring 16 goals in his time there.

In August 2010, he moved to the reigning Ukrainian champions, Shakhtar Donetsk.  At his first season, he won the treble with the club. He was voted as the best Shakhtar player for the 2011-12 Season on the club’s official website.

Stay with me we are going somewhere.

In his third season with the club, he scored 10 goals in his first six matches. He scored the two goals in Shakhtar’s first Champions League match of the season for a 2-0 win against Danish champions Nordsjaelland. He was named Man of the Match and was also later named in the Team of the Week for Matchday 1 of the Champions League. He finished the 2012-13 Season with 25 goals setting a Ukrainian Premier League record for most goals in a season.

Mkhitaryan signed for Borussia Dortmund in 2013 in a €27.5 million deal thereby making history by becoming the club’s most expensive signing. As if to assure the club of his quality, he scored on his debut.

His first Champions League goal for Dortmund came in the club’s 2-1 away victory over Arsenal. He ended his first season at the Signal Iduna Park with nine goals and 10 assists in the Bundesliga. 

Injury hampered his performance in the 2014-15 season. But he was back in business in the 2015-16 Season. The Armenian was voted the Bundesliga Players’ Player of the Season due to his exploits during the season. He finished the season as the assist king with 15 assists in the league, more than any other player.

By now, like a certain Kevin De Bruyne before him, he had interested a Manchester club. He became Jose Mourinho’s first signing as a Manchester United manager. He also made a bit of history himself by becoming the first ever Armenian to play in the Premier League.

But could his choosing to play for Mourinho have been a mistake?

Well, he never thought so. After playing in three matches for Manchester United in which the team won, his problems seem to have started in the Manchester derby in September 2016 when he was substituted at half-time.

But he scored three goals for the club in December 2016. The first was in the Europa League. The second was the only goal in a 1-0 win against Tottenham Hotspur. The next, a scorpion kick against Sunderland, which he described as his best career goal so far.

He went on to score in the 2-0 win for Manchester United in the 2017 Europa League final, thus becoming the first Armenian to win a major European trophy.

He started the 2017-18 Season by assisting a record-equaling five goals in his first three games.

So what has Henrikh Mkhitaryan done wrong to deserve a reputation for not being good enough for Manchester United?

When questioned about his exclusion from United’s lineups, Mourinho claimed the 28-year-old disappears during games. He told a news conference in November:

I was not happy with his last performances. I’m not speaking about one or two, I’m speaking about three, four or five. He started the season very well and after that, step by step, he was disappearing.”


For a man touted to be one of the best managers in the game, I would think you get the best from your best players by encouraging them and playing them to their strengths, not criticizing them.

From the step by step historical analysis above, you will agree with me Mkhitaryan has proved his quality beyond any reasonable doubt. How does a top class player go from the top of the world to cast away overnight without being given the chance to prove himself?

In some of the matches he has played, he has made the difference. When you score the goal that beats Tottenham, and score in the Europa League final, that’s not disappearing.

Okay, let’s looks at Man United without Mkhitaryan. He was not in the line-up when United conceded two goals in the first half of a match for the first time this season. This resulted in the first loss of the season against Huddersfield United. The team managed to pull a goal back when he came on in the second half, but the damage had already been done.

He was not in the line-up when United lost to Basel in the Champions League on November 22, 2017. He was not there when the team lost at home to Manchester City, struggled to beat Bournemouth 1-0 in the next game, struggled more against West Ham, and drew Leicester. He certainly was not in the lineup when the Red Devils were 2-0 down to Burnley at half-time right at the Old Trafford. Sure, as the loyal servant he is, he came on in the second half and helped the team draw the game 2-2 at full-time. So please, no one should blame Mkhitaryan for their poor results.

When you remember we are talking about a man that sold Kevin De Bruyne to Wolfsburg when he was Chelsea head coach, sold Mohammed Salah to Roma, and Romelu Lukaku to Everton for not being good enough, and even Chelsea’s player of the season Juan Mata to Manchester United, you will begin to appreciate the kind of manager we are talking about. Mkhitaryan may just be in this category of players. And as Mata, De Bruyne, Salah, and even Lukaku have shown, they are not to blame for the manager’s decision.

Can someone please take responsibility for his failures and stop looking for who to blame it on?

Emmanuel Odey

Emmanuel is a freelance journalist who lives and breathes the round leather game. He is a contributor on several platforms. You can follow him on Twitter for more.

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