More than Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Eric Bailly, the £27million signing of Henrikh Mkhitaryan from Borussia Dortmund last summer suggested that Jose Mourinho was ready to soak himself and follow the attacking traditions of Manchester United.
The news of Mkhitaryan joining the Premier League side came within 24 hours of Ibrahimovic announcing on social media that he was to join United in 2016-17. While Ibrahimovic’s luring was inarguably a blockbuster move from Jose, the thrills over the addition of one of the Bundesliga's most gifted attacking players gave the fans a sense of optimism ahead of the new season.
Mkhitaryan, one of Europe's most coveted playmakers with quick feet and sharp movement, was all ready to cast his magic and set the Old Trafford bouncing again. The Armenian’s pace, vision and style of play excited the United fans, who had endured a horrible time first under David Moyes and then Louis van Gaal.
Under Van Gaal, United signed one of the talented youngsters in Memphis Depay, who was tipped by many to be the ‘next Cristiano Ronaldo’. Memphis arrived in England with a lot of promise but failed to live up to the billing, but with Mkhitaryan’s signing, the fans have high expectations that they finally have got a player to set the Theatre of Dreams buzzing again.
Hardly four months and Mkhitaryan’s position at the club looks to be in danger after an underwhelming start. His slow start to life at Old Trafford has not helped United and there have been questions on Jose Mourinho’s methodology in helping the Armenian to develop.
It didn’t exactly went wrong for the former Shakhtar guy as he impressed in the No.10 role against Wigan in his pre-season debut. But that didn’t help him as Mourinho chose to either play him on the right-wing or not provide him game time at all.
After making four substitute appearances, Mkhitaryan’s only competitive start came in the Manchester derby, which United lost 2-1 to Pep Guardiola’s City. Not only United lost, Mkhitaryan struggled to make an impact and was substituted at half-time, and since, has not been seen in a United shirt. Although, he had picked up a thigh injury during a friendly with Armenia against the Czech Republic, that was no excuse as United were outclassed by City at home.
"The situation is that we played with Lingard, with Mata and Martial," Mourinho said when asked about Mkhitaryan. "I am not an Einstein, I don't know a tactical system to play with four wingers at the same time. He has to work more to get the intensity and the real fitness to play at the high level.
"To have him here tonight on the bench and to give him 15 to 20 minutes, like I did with Memphis, I thought it would be better for him to work the way he did yesterday and much harder, obviously.’’
"Now he is fit and it is now time for him to go back to the levels that we know he can achieve," Mourinho said earlier this week, but the Portuguese is yet to name him in the squad.
Mkhitaryan’s Dortmund career didn’t really got off to a flyer too, but eventually he grew and stamped his authority as one of Europe’s most sought-after playmakers. With United lacking creativity, he would seem a natural fit to fill the No 10 role in which neither Rooney nor Paul Pogba have been successful so far. Juan Mata is another candidate but Mourinho still lacks faith in the Spaniard.
Mkhitaryan is a different player, who offers guile and creativity to the team, and if Mourinho lacks the imagination to use him, United could end up losing a gem of a player.