Liverpool have been quick out of the blocks this summer to add to their squad following a promising first year under Brendan Rodgers. Iago Aspas has joined from Celta Vigo whilst Kolo Toure has also been drafted in on a free transfer from Manchester City. A deal for Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet appears to be close as Anfield representatives also work on another piece of business, the £22 million signing of Shakhtar Donetsk’s attacking midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan. We take a closer look at the appeal of the coveted 24 year old Armenian.
Mkhitaryan joined the youth set-up of Armenian club Pyunik FC at the age of just 6, staying with the club to break into the first team aged 17 in 2006. With Pyunik, he enjoyed a period of sustained success, winning four straight league titles and an Armenian Cup, scoring 35 goals in 89 appearances along the way. In his final year with the club, Mkhitaryan was named Armenian Player of the Year.
His fine form earned Mkhitaryan a move to the Ukraine with Metalurh Donetsk where he made 38 appearances in his first year, scoring 14 goals. In his second year, he was given the captain’s armband, making him the club’s youngest ever captain at the age of 21. Just a few weeks later, he joined Shakthar for 7.5 million Euros in the September of 2010.
His introduction at his new club was gradual as he initially had to prove to the bosses at the Donbass Arena that he possessed the required quality to make the step up to a higher level. However, after scoring on his home debut, the Armenian youngster went on to make 27 appearances as Shakthar completed a treble of the Premier League, the Ukrainian Cup and the Ukrainian Super-cup. In his next season, he began to figure more prominently in the first team, making 37 appearances in which he scored 11 goals.
It is in this past year where he has began to realise his potential, scoring 25 goals to break the Ukrainian Premier League record previously held by Serhiy Rebrov and Maksim Shatskikh. Boasting a wealth of experience at the age of 24 with 102 Ukrainian league appearances to his name already, Mkhitaryan has also been a regular part of Armenia’s national team, earning 39 caps and scoring 11 goals, the most recent coming in a surprise 4-0 demolition of Denmark in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.
Strengths, Style and Weaknesses
Despite the prolific goal record, Mkhitaryan is best positioned off the main striker, using his intelligence to drift into space between the lines and opening up space for others. When deployed in a slightly withdrawn position, the Armenian can use his gifted vision and impressive technique to create chances for his teammates with an array of precision-passing in the final third.
The 24 year old has also confessed that if he didn’t become a footballer he would have been a sprinter, so his electric pace is clear to see as he launches away from the markers. Partnered with a phenomenal work-rate, it makes the Armenian a ball of energy in the centre of the park, able to cover masses of ground with the technique and quality to use the ball efficiently regardless of where he picks the ball up.
Whilst mainly thriving in the final third with a supremely gifted attacking triumvirate of Alex Texeira, Wilian and Luiz Adriano, he can also comfortably drop deep to pick up the ball ahead of his defence in order to dictate play. This suggests his ability to adapt and slow his game down when it is required, using an intelligent football brain to use the right passes, or even make the correct runs into the box, hence his higher goal-scoring rate.
Making use of majestic balance, fine reading of the game and sublime technique, Mkhitaryan is showing signs of growing into a player comparable to his self-confessed influence, Zinedine Zidane. Whilst not quite at that level yet, the potential of progressing by moving on from Shakthar or even staying there and playing in the Champions League suggests a very bright career ahead for the youthful Armenian talent.
With Brendan Rodgers’s philosophy of wanting to build a cohesive attacking unit at Liverpool having signed Daniel Sturridge and Phillipe Coutinho with both showing signs of great technical quality, Mkhitaryan definitely fits the bill of the type of player Rodgers seemingly wants to attract. There is little doubt the Armenian could adapt to the Premier League’s notorious physicality as he boasts excellent upper-body strength despite a frame that stands at sub-6ft.
It is believed that the two clubs are on the verge of agreeing a £22 million deal for the player who comes with a lot of promise. It would definitely represent a piece of shrewd business by Liverpool who are aiming to return to the days of mounting a genuine title-challengers. With players of Mkhitaryan’s quality, those days won’t be too far away.