The Armenia and Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder could be off to Anfield this summer, so why not learn more about him?
At the end of the 2011/12 season Henrik Mkhitaryan told the Ukrainian press that they had just witnessed his best season as a professional footballer.
Shakhtar Donetsk had once again seen off the perpetually insufficient challenge of Dynamo Kyiv and the Armenian international had caressed, dinked and brushed his way to fourteen goals.
A year later Mkhitaryan ended the 2012/13 season with thirty goals in all competitions, a league and cup double, and the longing glances of much of Europe’s footballing elite. Not forgetting those caresses, dinks and brushes.
Now, aged twenty-four, and in position as one of Europe’s brightest talents, the midfielder is surrounded by a barrage of conflicting reports, each with their own sprinkling of Mkhitaryan ‘quotes’ to support.
What does seem clear, despite jostling with PR-driven ‘will he, won’t he’ that most of us got over post Cole-Gallas, is that the time is ripe for a move, both in terms of career progression and his exquisite ability.
A midfielder he may be, with the player himself recently asserting that he’s ‘not a forward’, the three-time Armenian player of the year most definitely has a large quantity of the proverbial ‘it’.
Stealthily shadowing the main striker in Shakhtar’s fluid 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 formation the midfielder fuses a combination of excellent vision, a speedy nip around the surface and the oh so Lampard-like ability to appear, poised, in-and-around the penalty area as the ball drops. Differences with Lampard abound, though, with Mkhitaryan able to slot into the false nine position so adored by today’s Borussia Dortmund-loving hipsters.
This footballing talent has, as his history suggests, followed a steadily linear progression from excelling as a seventeen year-old at FC Pyunik in Armenia.
Progress, it seems, has been a byword for Mkhitaryan’s career.
A debut season in 2006, an establishment in the Pyunik first team in 2007 and the double prize of top scorer and Armenian player of the year in 2009. The narrative, though, doesn’t end there, with a move to Ukraine and Metalurg Donetsk in 2009, being named the club’s youngest ever captain in 2010 and then, shortly into the 2010/11 season, moving across Donetsk to Shakhtar for €7.5 million.
The development at Shakhtar followed the now characteristic path, culminating in this season and goals (26) in 83.9% of his league games (31).
That rather linear path, seemingly destined to end with a move to Western Europe this summer, hits one jagged spot with the pleasant tale of four months spent training with Sao Paulo in Brazil in 2003. The beach-based trip encompassed the second time that Mkhitaryan had spent significant time away from Armenia, moving to France a year after his birth as his father, also a footballer, signed for French lower-tier side Valence.
The steady and progressive footballing strides taken by Mkhitaryan are offered in stark contrast to the debilitating blow dealt by the death of his father, aged thirty-three, due to a brain tumour in 1996, resulting in a move back to Yerevan.
The twenty-four year-old, multi-lingual and multi-talented, evidences the maturity of a man well experienced and travelled, both in life and in football. Whichever team benefits from his next travels, Liverpool or otherwise, will have captured a player with the potential to sit at football’s very top table.
Mkhitaryan, though, always one for progression and yearly development refuses to be drawn on his dream move, intimating that as a child he wasn’t too fond of Barcelona or Bayern Munich as “with age, tastes change. And there are no reasons to name just one thing that brings you joy”.