The January transfer window saw the end of a troubled career for Henrikh Mkhitaryan at Manchester United, with him being used as a makeweight in the deal to sign Alexis Sánchez, but what exactly went wrong for the promising Armenian?
Henrikh Mkhitaryan signed for Manchester United for an estimated fee of €42 million back in 2016, after a successful season, which saw him named Bundesliga Player of the Season for the 2015/16 campaign (voted by fans in the German magazine, ‘Kicker’), which saw him register 10 goals and 21 assists in 31 league appearances for Borussia Dortmund. So it’s safe to say that Manchester United were under the impression they had secured the signature of a player who possesses immense technical and physical ability, who can cut through opposition defences with an array of quality passes.
However, it ultimately didn’t work for him in Manchester and he was only able to show his true talents in the 16/17 Europa League games (scoring 5 goals in the knockout stages, including one in the final against Ajax).
The first thing that went wrong for Mkhitaryan is that he signed for the wrong manager. Under Thomas Tuchel, Borussia Dortmund played attacking, fast-paced football, a blueprint that emulates that of his predecessor Jürgen Klopp. This style of play defends from the front, with intense pressing off the ball and the ability to be agile in small spaces to open up defences and create an abundance of chances for the forwards to capitalise on. The effective style of football and the personnel at Tuchels disposal is the reason Dortmund finished the 15/16 season 2nd, 18 points clear of 3rd placed Bayer Leverkusen with Mkhitaryan being pivotal to the team’s success. On the other hand, José Mourinho is notorious for his less free-flowing style of play, particularly in tougher matches, which he has been very successful in doing in the past. This style of football requires his forwards to defend and being constantly involved over the 90 minutes, a talent that Mkhitaryan, unfortunately, couldn’t prove. During his league performances, it was notable that Mkhitaryan would disappear for long periods of the game, but then occasionally pop up with an assist or a goal in games the team were dominating and this didn’t please José, and eventually lead to his departure.
Having said that, the most important factor that lead to the Armenians struggles in Manchester were psychological. It was very common amongst Dortmund fans during his time there that Mkhitaryan was mentally weak for a professional football player and often his form depended on the support received from the manager, and more importantly the fans. José is a ruthless coach, who will dispose of players who aren’t willing to follow his style of play, no matter the long-term cost (think Kevin de Bruyne and Mohamed Salah) and the Manchester United fans are impatient when it comes to success due to countless years dominating English football. At 29, Mkhitaryan should be enjoying his most successful years as a footballer, and be playing consistently at the top of his level, much like his counterpart, Alexis Sánchez.
There’s no argument that Henrikh Mkhitaryan is a technically gifted attacking midfielder and it will be interesting to see if he can find his feet again under a manager who expects a lot less from his players defensively, in addition, the potential acquisition of former teammate Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a rumoured Arsenal transfer, could spark the revival of his career.
Source for all stats: https://www.transfermarkt.com/
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