Jose Mourinho has paid tribute to Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s attitude and application after the Armenian forced his way back into the manager’s plans with a string of impressive performances.
Mkhitaryan is Manchester United’s man of the moment; after providing two assists in the EFL Cup win over West Ham United, the former Dortmund player was one of United’s better players against Everton, before scoring his first goal for the club in last night’s win over Zorya Luhansk. Mkhitaryan has featured in United’s last five matches, starting four of them. It has been an admirable comeback for a player who hadn’t previously featured since the middle of September.
After his man of the match display last night, Jose Mourinho was quick to acknowledge Mkhitaryan’s efforts over the past few months.
“He worked really hard physically, tactically and we know the talent is there.”
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) December 8, 2016
Mourinho went on to speak very positively of the Armenian’s contribution this season:
“He has a strong mentality. He was very determined to fight against his difficult adaptation, and he’s doing that in the best way.
“He fought to improve tactically, he fought to improve physically, and now he is playing good in the Premier League, good in the Europa League and the EFL Cup, and now evolving a bit more happiness for him, so I’m very pleased.”
During Mkhitaryan’s exile from first-team action, Mourinho was constantly asked why he had not featured more regularly. Speaking at the start of November, Mourinho was clear about his expectations for United’s new signing.
“He has to do more, it’s as simple as that.
“We have big expectations at this club, lots of players for these positions, and he has to play better than [Juan] Mata, [Jesse] Lingard, [Anthony] Martial — he has to play better than them. It’s as simple as that.
“Every manager wants to win matches, every manager in the world wants to play the players that he thinks can help the team more, and I’m no different.”
At the time there was some suggestion that Mourinho had lost faith in a player that cost Manchester United in excess of £26 million in the summer. While United were failing to win matches and dropping valuable points in the title race, one of the most talented attacking players in world football was watching from the stands, unable to even make the bench.
So each time Mourinho spoke publicly about the issue or spoke about the process of adaptation that Mkhitaryan needed to undergo, there were rumblings that the United manager was about to allow the player to slip through his fingers, the same way Kevin De Bruyne or Romelu Lukaku were allowed to at Chelsea.
But credit where credit is due, Mourinho’s public declarations of support for Mkhitaryan have represented the truth all along. When the former Borussia Dortmund man missed United’s draw with Arsenal last month, again Mourinho had to defend his decision to the media.
“I told him Arsenal was not the game for you.
“I don’t think he needs 10 or 20 minutes from the bench. He needs less pressure and better conditions for him to express his qualities.
“I think he needs a good game and he needs to either start or, if not, to come on for the second half.”
It would be the last time Mourinho had to entertain such a question this season. In United’s next match against Feyenoord, Mkhitaryan was handed his first start in months and he did not disappoint. His performance was electric and inspired United to a comfortable 4-0 win. He’s remained in the team ever since and is starting to show his true value as a Manchester United player.
His wonderful goal in Ukraine really confirmed his arrival at one of the world’s biggest clubs. A fine solo run, including a sublime nutmeg to beat a Zorya defender, was rounded off with a calm, confident finish. As Mkhitaryan wheeled away in celebration, Manchester United fans got a renewed sense of excitement. Their new man is starting to find his feet.