Mkhitaryan a victim of Mourinho's desire to destroy
Publicly criticised by his manager during the week, Henrikh Mkhitaryan made a cameo appearance during the second-half of Manchester United's 1-0 home victory over Brighton on Saturday lunchtime. It was another example of José Mourinho's brutal efficiency, and any critics of their performance would be directed toward the fact that his side claimed all three points and kept another clean sheet too.
Mourinho is an experienced manipulator of the media and will use the mass attention on his side to pass on public messages toward his own players. Mkhitaryan is the latest player to find himself targeted in Mourinho's show of criticism, with the busy Christmas fixture period a genuine test to see whether his comments have had the desired effect.
Mkhitaryan was heralded as an inspiring and equally impressive acquisition by José last summer. A creative midfielder who flourished with Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund following a club-record transfer move from Shakhtar Donetsk in 2013, he quickly became a key figure in Germany and was named the Bundesliga's Players' Playaer of the Year.
A prestigious award for a player in a side competing with Bayern Munich and their all-star cast, the now 28-year-old played a pivotal role in helping their rebuilding operation which started upon his arrival.
However, things have changed considerably for Mkhitaryan under Mourinho's management. He has little time or appreciation for spontaneous acts of flair and creativity on the field and as a result, the creative midfielder has been chained into a specific role with the brutality of a circus animal. His character rejected the oppression and it's not a surprise that his game has inevitably suffered as a result.
A player that needs to play without restriction, his brilliance stems from the ability to find pockets of space and being intelligent enough to use this effectively in an attacking sense. Dortmund were a perfect fit for his style, and as they became increasingly dependent on his performances, his confidence increased.
His natural flair became more apparent and consequently rewarded the faith shown in his ability by playing without fear.
For some, Mkhitaryan will be considered a luxury player. A player that can change a game in a minute, but may seem to be carried for the other 89. However, when his confidence is high and he's given the freedom to find space which he'll make valid contributions from, he will.
Frankly, Mkhitaryan is a player that needs a manager to believe in him and his ability.
In addition, his character suggests he is a player that does not respond well to criticism, and Mourinho's latest approach to dealing with a player that appears destined to be on his way out of Old Trafford is unlikely to have any positive impact on his performances either. Dortmund are already reportedly considering a move to take him back to Germany, which now appears his most likely destination.
Mourinho has little time for pandering to his players and those who resent the pampering of the modern day player will appreciate his stance on such matters. He's not the first flair player to suffer under Mourinho's standards and will not be the last either. The form of Kevin de Bruyne for Manchester rivals City is testament to the failings of Mourinho's totalitarian approach.
de Bruyne suffered at Chelsea under Mourinho, having been publicly criticised in similar fashion. His confidence took a significant hit at the time, but it's no coincidence that Mourinho's nemesis is currently getting the best out of him.
Pep Guardiola actively promotes the freedom of expression in the attacking third, which players like de Bruyne thrive upon and is being rewarded for allowing his prized asset to go out and play without tactical restraint.
In comparison, Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic can be considered as flair players. Both seem to thrive under Mourinho while still respecting the boss' orders. However, they are two huge characters who have a level of confidence which will not be dented by public criticism. Like Mourinho, they embrace the challenge of taking on the world - despite being at different stages in their respective careers.
His nature dictates that Mourinho should not sign players like de Bruyne and Mkhitaryan, as he does not have the tolerance to pander to their needs. He demands they stand up and can take responsibility for their own game, the type of player that help make his disciplined tactical approach work. When they do produce for him, they will be rewarded with public protection against media criticism.
It's becoming increasingly apparent that Mkhitaryan needs to leave United as soon as possible for the benefit of his career progression. Under a different manager, there is no reason why he could not thrive on the biggest stage, as he has shown his capability to perform at the very highest level. With that being said, the chemistry between him and his manager will always be the deciding factor in what he achieves in the future.