Manchester United have agreed a £26 million deal to sign Borussia Dortmund forward Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The 27-year-old, who had just one year left on his contract with Dortmund will join Zlatan Ibrahimovic in attack for the Red Devils.
Primarily an attacking midfielder, the Armenian-born can also play as a second striker. He has been praised for his dribbling, technique, passing and ability to tear defences apart. He started his career in Pyunik in Armenia. Due to his success in the Armenian league, he was signed by Ukranian club Metalurh Donetsk in 2009. A year later Shakhtar Donetsk came calling where he spent two seasons before joining Borussia Dortmund in 2013.
Mkhitaryan has won the Armenian Footballer of the Year five times and leads his country in international matches. His addition to the Manchester United side will prove crucial in their bid to secure a Champions League berth next season.
Here are 5 things you might not have known about Manchester United’s latest recruit:
#1 He almost joined Liverpool in 2013 but an intervention from Jurgen Klopp made him choose Dortmund
In the summer of 2013, the then Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers had made Mkhitaryan his top transfer target.
He was the leading goal scorer in Ukraine’s top flight the previous season, scoring 25 goals in 29 league games for Shakhtar Donetsk. With the deal almost done and reports of him flying to Anfield for a medical doing the rounds, Liverpool fans were excited at this midfield prospect who would light up Anfield if he was signed.
However, the then Borussia Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp made an offer he couldn’t refuse and he chose Signal Iduna Park as his future home rather than Anfield.
Mkhitaryan insisted that it was not money, but the brand of football Dortmund played that made him accept Klopp’s offer.
Looking at the present circumstances, the new Manchester United man will go up against the club who failed to sign him three years ago and against the same man who did – Jurgen Klopp, who is the current manager of Liverpool. Ironic, huh?
#2 He can speak six languages and studied Physical Education and Economics
The new Manchester United midfielder has a knack for learning new languages. Besides his mother tongue Armenian, he speaks French, Russian, English, German and Portuguese. He had also adapted quickly to the language of football played in Dortmund which mainly was pass-and-move. Communication with new manager Jose Mourinho should not be a problem as the ‘Special One’ himself knows as many as five languages.
Mkhitaryan also has a Diploma from the Institute of Physical Culture in Armenia and was pursuing a degree in Economics at the St. Petersburg Institute, Yerevan branch before leaving for Ukraine.
#3 Zinedine Zidane is his footballing idol
For a boy who played football and grew up in France, it is no surprise that he idolised the French magician Zinedine Zidane. The former Real Madrid midfielder who was renowned for his elegance, ball-control and vision is widely regarded as one of the best to have played the beautiful game.
Bayern Munich midfielder Xabi Alonso said of him, "What he could do with a football is a dream for most of us."
Zidane was instrumental in helping France win the FIFA World Cup in 1998, scoring twice in the final. His left-footed volley in the 2002 UEFA Champions League Final is one of the best goals to be scored in the competition. Mkhitaryan, who grew up watching Zidane in his prime, came to idolise him after initially liking another Real Madrid great, Raul.
Mkhitaryan said of the midfield maestro before the Champions League quarter-final in 2014 against Real Madrid: “I first saw Madrid with Raul and he was the best. But then I saw Zidane…he was a great playmaker,
“It’s totally true he was my idol as a child. I loved how he played and he was a great inspiration to me.
“But I never tried to copy or imitate his style. I’m happy being myself.”
#4 Mkhitaryan used to live in the club’s training ground during his Shakhtar days
Henrikh Mkhitaryan did not live in an apartment but in the club’s training ground when he was playing for Shakhtar Donetsk. In times where footballers are sometimes known because of their luxurious lifestyle, Mkhitaryan was committed to football and football alone.
Speaking to Armenian newspaper panorama.am in February 2013 regarding his unusual lifestyle, he said, “Since I’ve become something of an idol, I prefer to just concentrate on my football. My team-mates do tease me sometimes though. They even nicknamed me President [of the training ground].”
Henrikh, however, did take up an apartment when he moved to Borussia Dortmund in 2013.
#5 His entire family have their grounding in football
Mkhitaryan’s father, Hamlet, played as a centre-forward for Ararat Yerevan, Armenia’s most successful club in Soviet times – the late 1980s. He also represented the newly formed Armenia twice at the international stage. His father was Henrikh’s biggest role model. “When I was a child, I used to watch my father playing football, and I always wanted to follow him to training,” he said. “When he didn’t take me with him, I stayed next to the door, crying.
“I always wanted to become a football player, and I thank my parents, as they helped me so much to realise this dream. They always supported me on my path.”
His father passed away from a brain tumour in 1996. However, football stayed in the veins in his family. His mother works for the Armenia Football Federation while his sister works for the UEFA.