Shakthar Donetsk is arguably Ukraine’s most successful club at this point in time in their current history, appearing in the lucrative Champions League year after year. The Ukrainian outfit has won the last four Ukrainian Premier League titles, in succession and has also won an astounding 7 of the last 8 championships with Dynamo Kyiv winning the other one. But they have not always been the top dogs in Ukraine. Shakthar have a very deep squad that goes down all the way to their academy, but a mix of Brazilian players like Taison, Maicon, Douglas Costa, Ilsinho, and Ukrainian players such as Andriy Pyatov, Taras Stepanenko, and young Ukrainian defender Serihy Kryvtsov help build the club into the powerhouse that it is today.
The lone Armenian player in the squad, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, is making quite a name for himself after an impressive showing in the Champions League this past season and has moved onto the radar of many of the top European Clubs. Henrikh has also performed well for the Armenian national team already making close to 40 appearances and having already netted more than ten times at the ripe age of just 24 years old.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan was born on 21 January 1989 in the Armenian capital of Yerevan. He arrived in Donetsk back in 2010 after a brief season with another Ukrainian club, Metalurh Donetsk. Mkhitaryan’s father was a very prolific striker back in the 80s for FC Ararat Yerevan before moving to play in France for a short time. Unfortunately, Henrikh’s father died of a brain tumor when he was just seven years of age.
Mkhitaryan joined the youth system of Pyunik FC at just six years of age. He would stay with the club his whole childhood and earned his first salary at 15. Two years later, at the age of 17, Henrikh would have the chance to prove that he has what it takes to earn a permanent spot in the first side. The Armenian midfielder would do just that, for four seasons between 2006 and 2009. During his time there he would win four consecutive Armenian league titles, two Armenian Supercups, and one Armenian Cup during his final season with the club. His spectacular performances with his first club, in which he managed 35 goals in 89 appearances in all competitions, he made the move to Metalurh Donetsk of the Ukrainian Premier League.
In his first match with his new squad, Henrikh scored a goal in a 3-0 victory over Belarusian Premier League side FC Partisan Minsk, in a Europa League qualifying game. Metalurh faced Slovenian’s Interblock Ljubljana in the next qualifying round, and he scored again in the return leg, where eventually his side won on aggregate 5-0. Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s first league match came in a 0-0 draw with Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk. As a whole that season, he earned a total of 38 appearances for Metalurh across all competitions while scoring 14 times that season. The following season, he became the youngest captain ever at Metalurh, when he was named captain on July 14th, at just 21 years of age. Because of his consistent performances with Metalurh over the past two seasons, he made the switch to Shakthar Donetsk where he would continue to improve his game greatly.
Henrikh’s debut for his new club did not come right away as he had to work hard in training to show his new coaching staff that he does in fact have what it takes to become a regular starter at a more established club. His debut finally came on September 10th in an away defeat to Obolon Kyiv. He scored his first goal for the club in his debut at the Donbass Arena. That season was rather successful for Shakthar as they won the Ukrainian treble, by winning the Premier League, the Ukrainian Supercup, and the Ukrainian Cup.
This past season was a breakout year for the Armenian midfielder as he amassed a total of 25 league goals, which is now a Ukrainian Premier League record. That record was previously held by Dynamo Kyiv legends, Serhiy Rebrov & Maksim Shatskikh both of who scored 22 goals in 1998 & 2003 respectively. In his first two seasons at Shakhtar, Mkhitaryan played 64 games scored 15 goals; in 39 games in the 2012/13 season, he managed 25 goals. He also played in his 100th league match in Ukrainian domestic football on March 16th of this year.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan has played 39 games for his national team, at the time of writing, scoring 11 goals. His most recent goal was in Armenia’s famous 4-0 World Cup qualifying victory over Denmark in Copenhagen, earlier this month.
Styles, Strengths, and Weaknesses
Henrikh is most prolific when he is playing right behind the first striker. When he is behind the central striker with the ball, space opens up for the Armenian midfielder and creates fantastic goal scoring opportunities with his great vision of the play happening in front of him and finding the perfect pass to his surrounding teammates. For anyone that had ever watched his father play in the 80s, may say that his style of play emulates that of his father.
His creativity, technique, and movement, all help confuse the back four of many defenses across the Ukrainian Premier League. And because of his ability, Henrikh Mkhitaryan pretty much has an automatic spot in the national team as he is by far one of the best, if not the best midfielder on the current Armenian roster. With all the experience he has, it is almost a guarantee that he will be in the Armenian team for all of their major matches.
Mkhitaryan’s work rate is absolutely sensational. It seems like he never takes a second off from the play, whenever I have seen him. Henrikh will help build up play starting from the half way line as the back four retain possession. Then, if the play ever broke down because of a bad pass, or whatever the reason may be, Henrikh will track all the way back to help out his defense. In other words, he never stops running, ever. I do not know where he gets all of the energy that he does for the full ninety minutes.
Comparisons have been made with Kaka and Frank Lampard. Both of whom play in simillar positions but different roles. So, you could say that Henrikh Mkhitaryan is a combination of both, positioned behind the striker with the ability to take on the opposition ahead of him, while also making late runs into the box.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan has an incredible burst of pace as well. His ability to run at defences comes with his raw speed. He confessed in this interview to News.am that he could have been a sprinter, if not a footballer. Henrikh mentioned in this interview with Shakhtar’s official website that he takes inspiration from Zinedine Zidane “I appreciated the style of Zinedine Zidane, what he did on the pitch. He was like a magician to me.” He is no Zidane, but he does have that element of magic on the pitch.
Mkhitaryan has obviously benefited from having creative talent beside him, with the likes of Alex Texeira, Willian and Luiz Adriano. But Mkhitaryan brought something extra to the field. He is an all-round fluid performer in the attacking third and has the ability to score with an assortment of efforts.
There is not a whole lot of Mkhitaryan’s game that I do not like. The only thing that can be said about his game is that he does not always play the perfect pass to his teammates. But then again, who really does? Even the fantastic Real Madrid midfielder, Xabi Alonso will misplace a pass from time to time, all of the greatest players do. Henrikh Mkhitaryan is certainly one to watch for the future with the more exposure he will get due to the Champions League, the more people will hear about him.
A few weeks ago, Liverpool announced that the Armenian midfielder was their number one summer transfer target, according to various England newspapers including, the Guardian, Independent, and many others. However, if Liverpool are going to sign him this summer, they will need to pay the £20m price tag that was slapped on him by the Shakthar Donetsk board. It should be noted here that Henrikh Mkhitaryan is represented by Mino Raiola, known as the super agent of football. He is behind the big money (controversial) moves of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to PSG, Mario Balotelli to AC Milan and Paul Pogba from United to Juventus. Known for demanding high salary for his players, Liverpool who have been increasingly linked with the Armenian will need to cough up a decent amount of dough to land Raiola’s player.
Many other clubs are interested in him with Bayern Munich, Manchester City, and Chelsea also waiting in the wings for the exuberant midfielder. His current deal with the Ukrainian club lasts until June of 2015, so if a bigger European club wants his signature, they will most likely have to pay a hefty buyout clause. However, what they will get is a very consistent midfielder who will work hard every day in training to continue his craft and will always give all he has in each and every match he plays in.
Still at 24, Henrikh Mkhitaryan has the ability to go onto bigger and better things in football. His place is at the top, and his journey to that destination has just kicked off.
UPDATE: Henrikh Mkhitaryan joined Borussia Dortmund.