Position: Attacking midfield, Second striker
Club: Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukrainian Premier League)
2012/13 stats: League – 29 apps, 25 goals, All competitions – 39 apps, 27 goals
Best attributes: Dribbling, movement, technique, pace
Plays a bit like: Frank Lampard, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Özil
If you’ve familiarised yourself with the gossip columns that seem to be everywhere this time of year, then chances are you’ve heard of Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Whether you know him as the lad whose name you can’t pronounce, or as an attacking midfielder for Shakhtar Donetsk, what you will know is that a host of Europe’s top clubs are reportedly interested, and that some of the price tags bandied around have been far from modest. With that in mind; why is it Mkhitaryan is set to swap Ukraine for one of Europe’s elite, and why is that plenty see him as one of the finest players on the market right now?
Well, it’s in his genes for a start. His father, Hamlet Mkhitaryan, was a striker who represented Armenia’s national team on two occasions, and it was because of his father that Henrikh became interested in following in his footsteps. When the Mkhitaryans relocated to France in the 1990s to follow Hamlet to ASOA Valence, young Henrikh developed an interest in the sport, and it was during his time in the country that he began to idolise Zinedine Zidane. However, their stay in France was short-lived. Hamlet died of a brain tumour in 1996, with Henrikh aged seven, and the family returned to Yerevan in their homeland.
Mkhitaryan was initiated into Pyunik Yerevan’s youth academy, and was noted for “showing outstanding technique and vision.” He broke into the first-team aged 17, and would win the league title in each season of his career with Pyunik, showing his eye for goal with 35 strikes in 89 outings. An international debut beckoned in 2007, and Mkhitaryan had already netted his first goal in an Armenia shirt by the time he swapped Pyunik for Ukrainian outfit Metalurh Donetsk in 2009.
He netted on his debut for Metalurh against Partizan Minsk in the Europa League, and finished his debut campaign in Ukraine with 14 goals in 37 appearances. By the time the 2010-11 season had gotten underway Mkhitaryan had been appointed as the youngest captain in the club’s history, and city rivals and domestic giants Shakhtar had seen enough; subsequently spending to €5.6m to secure his services.
So began a match made in heaven. The Armenian notched on his home debut against Tavriya Simferopol, and had already scored three times in four appearances before making his bow in the Champions League against Braga. Mkhitaryan scored just four times in his first season with Shakhtar, but won the Premier League, Ukrainian Cup and the Supercup, winning praise from pundits along the way.
Shakhtar were imperious in their title defence the following year, and with Mkhitaryan forming a deadly partnership with Brazilian Willian, the duo spearheaded the Donetsk’s club’s double triumph. Mkhitaryan almost tripled his goal return this time round as he bagged 11 goals in all competitions, but people had really begun to sit up and take notice of the Armenian’s qualities. His movement and awareness had come on leaps and bounds, with comparisons to Frank Lampard rife. Mkhitaryan ended his second campaign with Shakhtar by being named the league’s best player, and took the accolade for Armenian player of the year home for the third time in four years.
Mkhitaryan took it to the next level for the 2012-13 season; and two goals and two assists on the opening day in a 6-0 romp against Arsenal Kiev set the tone for his announcement to European football. A hat-trick against Chornomorets Odessa left the Armenian with ten goals in just six games, and he notched his first Champions League goals with a brace against Nordsjælland in September. Mkhitaryan excelled against Chelsea on the European stage as the reigning champions were resigned to the Europa League by Juventus and Shakhtar, and his performance against the Premier League side left an even wider audience excited by his potential.
In the year in which Mkhitaryan added prolific goalscoring to his already glistening CV, the comparisons continued. This time, his ability to beat a player, exploit space and competence in front of goal on either foot drew links to Cristiano Ronaldo. While the Portuguese continued to score for fun in Madrid, Mkhitaryan did the same in Donetsk, and was already top of the goalscorers chart when he made his 100th league appearance in Ukraine against Chornomorets. A brace against Tavria in a 5-0 win meant Mkhitaryan had set the record for goals in a season with his 23rd and 24th of the campaign, and he added a 25th before becoming a double winner with Shakhtar in consecutive seasons.
Reportedly a top target for Liverpool and priced at £22m, Mkhitaryan’s eye-catching goal record from midfield have seen clubs like Arsenal, Real Madrid and Juventus all register a supposed interest. Bringing excellent pace, quick feet, clinical finishing and fantastic exploitation of space in and around the box, Mkhitaryan would be a welcome addition to many top European sides. Don’t be surprised to see the Armenian swap Shakhtar for one of the giants of the continent, and the only thing that is certain at this stage is that his club will want substantial compensation for a big loss. Armenian football’s golden boy is set for a massive future.