He was hailed as one of the brightest stars in Europe when he joined Manchester United from Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2016. But Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s days as Old Trafford already appear to be numbered after Jose Mourinho admitted “every player has his price.”
That comment has been widely interpreted as being about the Armenian playmaker, who moved to United in the same transfer window as Paul Pogba and who was expected to have a similar impact.
After all, this was a player that had been named in the Bundesliga team of the season for 2015/16, a campaign in which he was also topped the assist chart. Blessed with speed and skill, as well as a keen eye for goal, Mkhitaryan seemed to fit the profile of a Mourinho footballer.
In total, the 28-year-old made 41 appearances in all competitions during his first season in the Premier League, with his highlight coming in the Europa League final where he scored in United’s 2-0 victory over Ajax. His fall from grace has been spectacular, however.
Since tallying five assists in the first three games of the current campaign, Mkhitaryan has become a peripheral figure and has not featured since United’s 4-1 victory over Newcastle United last month, being selected for only one of the last eight match-day squads.
Mourinho has an embarrassment of attacking riches at his disposal and the emergence of Jesse Lingard in recent weeks has pushed the Armenia international further down the pecking order.
Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial have also been consistent performers in a United shirt, providing goals and assists and linking up well with Romelu Lukaku. Nevertheless, there must be more than just footballing reasons at play here.
Although Mourinho has not commented publicly on Mkhitaryan, speculation in the media has been rife that the pair have suffered an irreparable falling out, with BBC Sport understanding there to have been a “breakdown of trust” between the pair.
If that is indeed the case, the former Dortmund star can assume his career at the Red Devils is over and seek employment elsewhere.
Mourinho is one of the most successful managers in world football, but his man-management skills have often been questioned. Bastian Schweinsteiger, a World Cup winner of the highest regard, was banished to the reserves last season before being offloaded to Chicago Fire in the US.
Recently, Mourinho’s public criticism of full-back Luke Shaw, who suffered an horrendous leg fracture two years ago, has also come in for severe criticism.
Unlike Schweinsteiger, Mkhitaryan was signed by Mourinho and not a previous regime. And although he had by no means established himself as a world-beater, he was beginning to repay the £30 million transfer fee that had brought him to England with such promise.
Supporters may feel sadness and regret at never seeing the best of Mkhitaryan, who looked tailor-made for the Premier League. But his short-lived United career is a timely reminder that once a player loses Mourinho’s trust, there is no way back.