Henrikh Mkhitaryan has explained how Jose Mourinho can get the best out of him at Manchester United, shedding light on how Thomas Tuchel’s positive attitude at Borussia Dortmund galvanised his entire career.
The Armenian arrived at Old Trafford in July, sending shockwaves of excitement across Man United’s entire fanbase, but a series of injuries and confidence issues meant that he had only managed one start under Mourinho by November.
He received chances to start in recent wins over Feyenoord and West Ham United, dazzling the watching world with two sensational Man of the Match performances.
Mkhitaryan, writing in the Player’s Tribune, shed light on how he recovered from confidence issues in Germany to morph into the Bundesliga Player of the Year in the space of a year.
“The first season at Borussia Dortmund was O.K., but the second season was a disaster, not only for me, but also for the club,” he wrote.
“We were losing so much, and I felt like I was having no luck. Not only was I not scoring, but I was not assisting, which is very unlike me. I had been signed for a lot of money, and I put a lot of pressure on myself.
“I had many hard nights in my apartment in Dortmund, all alone, just thinking and thinking. I didn’t want to go outside, even to have dinner. But, as I said, fate can be interesting. A new manager, Thomas Tuchel, came to Dortmund before my third season, and he changed everything for me.
“He came to me and said, ‘Listen, I want to get everything out of you.’
“I was kind of smiling and laughing, because I thought he was just trying to make me feel better. I was doubting his words.
“But he looked at me very seriously, and said, ‘Micki, you are going to be great.’
“That meant everything to me. After the season I had, I didn’t think I could be a star. But he did it. He got everything out of me that season, and it was because I was happy again.
“When you are sad, you can’t be lucky. This is something I learned from the Brazilian culture. When you are happy, good things happen on the pitch. That season, we played with enthusiasm. We played a crazy, super-attacking style, and we enjoyed every minute on the pitch.”
Very rarely do players, now restricted to numerous PR platitudes when speaking to the media, speak in such a heartfelt, genuine manner. Footballers may be multi-millionares, playing the beautiful game for a living, but they are human beings too. And, just like us, they have moments where everything feels lost.
This is clearly how Mkhitaryan felt at Dortmund, and the same sense of anxiety has reared its ugly head at Old Trafford once again. The last couple of weeks, however, have seen the 27-year-old erupt out of his shell, and Mourinho will know that the only thing he can do is give the midfielder further chances to establish himself in United’s starting XI.