The Armenian has been given very few opportunities by Jose Mourinho, but now that he has been promised a role against Feyenoord he has to make the most of it.
“I told him that he is going to be involved in the game,” Jose Mourinho said of Henrikh Mkhitaryan ahead of Thursday’s vital Europa League fixture against Feyenoord at Old Trafford. The statement is music to many Manchester United supporters’ ears.
The Armenian’s spell at Old Trafford has been one of the biggest mysteries of United’s difficult campaign thus far. While the club sit six points away from the top four of the Premier League and need a win on Thursday to leap into a qualifying spot in Europe, Mkhitaryan has made almost no impact as his English dream has turned into a nightmare.
With just one start under his belt, in which he was hauled off at half-time against local rivals Manchester City, the 27-year-old has often found himself watching from the stands as United have foundered. And while he did have a niggling muscle injury at one point, by and large he has been keep out purely on the say-so of Mourinho.
The manager has regularly made comments doubting Mkhitaryan’s readiness, and this week he claimed that last Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Arsenal was too high-pressure a game for him to be involved.
“I told him this [Arsenal] was not the game for you,” Mourinho said afterwards by way of explanation for Mkhitaryan’s exclusion. “I don’t think he needs 10 or 20 minutes from the bench. [I said] I think you need a good game and you need to either start or if not to come for the second half.
“He needs less pressure and better conditions for him to express his qualities.”
To claim Mkhitaryan cannot handle the pressure involved in a United-Arsenal clash is curious. This is not a 19-year-old rookie he is speaking of but a man who has been the catalyst behind many of Borussia Dortmund’s biggest victories in the last three seasons. He scored and assisted in big semi-finals, in local derbies, in victories over Bayern. Why would he not be able to contribute for United in a similar level fixture?
The player himself has spoken recently of his desire to force his way back into favour: “I worked hard in my career and it was a long journey to play for Manchester United. I will continue to fight to make my dream come true at United. I will not give up and I’ll find the strength to achieve that goal.”
But it is clear that if Mkhitaryan is going to turn around his fortunes any time soon, he will have to take whatever sliver of an opportunity he is afforded by his stubborn boss.
“He is trying,” added Mourinho this week. “He is not happy but he is transforming his frustration in a good way, which is to close the mouth and work hard and try to adapt.”
Mourinho, Mkhitaryan and everybody associated with Manchester United must hope that adaptation happens sooner rather than later, starting on Thursday. United need the three points just as much as the Armenian needs to prove a point as to his quality.
When he arrived in the summer, it seemed as though his arrival might well be the pick of United’s business. And it could be yet, despite the early signs. If he can only shine in the bright lights of a European night at Old Trafford against Feyenoord, then he might finally begin to awake from his nightmare start to life as a Manchester United player.