Henrikh Mkhitaryan is certainly a wanted man this summer. After a stellar season for Dortmund in which he racked up 18 goals and 20 assists in all competitions, clubs from around Europe came calling for his services. Going into the final year of his contract, Dortmund moved quickly to extend the attacking midfielder’s contract to ward off all interest. Talks between the club, the player and his agent, Mino Raiola, broke down early however due to the player and his agent wanting a release clause inserted into any new deal. This was the signal for teams to send their representatives to Germany in an attempt to lure the Armenian. Chelsea, Arsenal and Juventus are all credited with interest in Mkhitaryan but it would seem Manchester United have emerged as favourites to sign the 27 year old after Raiola made it clear that his client “dreams” of playing for United.
With new manager José Mourinho at the helm, the United squad is expected undergo major surgery in order to catapult themselves back to the summit of English football where they feel they belong. In Mkhitaryan, Mourinho would be getting one of the most talented attacking midfielders on the market. The Dortmund #10 is quick, agile, an adept dribbler, and has an eye for a pass. Not one to shirk hard work, the versatile Armenian is capable of playing on either flank or through the middle. Indeed, his exploits on the right would have piqued the interest of most. Of his 38 goal contributions last season, 17 of those came while deployed on the right. Being equally comfortable with both feet, Mkhitaryan is just as capable of cutting inside and unleashing a rasping shot with his “weaker” left foot as he is at heading down the line to pick out a teammate in a scoring position with his right.
Last season under Louis van Gaal saw a number of players deployed on the right for United with varying degrees of success. Juan Mata enjoyed a brief resurgence in form with good performances out on the right in the Dutchman’s possession based 4-3-3 system, scoring 10 goals and assisting on 8 occasions in all competitions. However, his lack of defensive contributions were a cause for concern. Mata’s averages of 0.7 tackles and 0.5 interceptions per game saw him replaced by a youthful Jesse Lingard who was given a chance to prove that he was ready for regular first team football. Unfortunately for the young Englishman, he failed to truly seize the opportunity. Lingard simply lacked the quality and experience to have a consistent impact at this level, however his running and tackling were appreciated by his then manager. Tackling and intercepting at a per game rate of 1.7 and 0.8 respectively represented an improvement over Mata in those categories but his offensive contributions left something to be desired, scoring 6 goals and assisting a further 3. With Dutchman Memphis Depay out of sorts and seemingly incapable of playing on the right, Mourinho would have to look abroad to find a player capable of contributing to both the attack and defense. With 1.7 tackles and 1.5 interceptions per game to go along with his exploits in front of goal, Mkhitaryan would appear to be such a player.
With Mourinho’s known appreciation for players willing to work hard, Mkhitaryan should have little trouble with impressing his new manager should an agreement be reached between the two clubs. At Chelsea, Mata and Mourinho had their disagreements due to the Spaniard’s penchant for shirking his defensive responsibilities. This saw him dropped in favour of Oscar, and eventually sold to United in the middle of the season. Should José deviate from van Gaal’s possession system for his favoured high pressing, counter attacking system, Mata may well see himself forced out yet again in favour of a player willing to cover more ground to regain possession. With the Armenian, Mourinho would not only have a player of requisite talent on the ball to have a direct impact on games but a player equally capable off the ball in harrying opponents for possession and supporting his wing backs when necessary.
Having already lost Mats Hummels and İlkay Gündoğan to Bayern Munich and Manchester City respectively, Dortmund are in no hurry to sell yet another of their stars. Reports have emerged that they are only willing to part with Mkhitaryan should his valuation of €40m be met. But with the Armenian willing to run down his current contract to leave on a Bosman next season, United have the option of waiting a year to get him for free. Given what Mkhitaryan brings to the table however, United may have to bite the bullet and pay a high price for a player in the final year of his contract that would undoubtedly improve them.