Henrikh Mkhitaryan has explained how he reasserted himself in the starting XI at Manchester United, pointing towards his overall attitude towards giving everything in training.
The Armenian arrived at Old Trafford over the summer for a £27m fee but found himself consigned to the sidelines for almost three months following a tumultuous home debut against Manchester City in September.
He was given a chance to impress during Man United’s 4-0 win over Feyenoord in late November and hasn’t looked back since, producing a number of mesmerising displays at both No.10 and out wide.
And Mkhitaryan, when asked about his transformation under Mourinho, was quick to place emphasis on the importance of working hard at Carrington.
“Well, our life is worthless without difficulties,” he said. “Every person must be able to handle difficulties, and the same concerns me.
“But it was not difficult for me to overcome these difficulties as I knew that sooner or later I would get my chance and I would use that.
“Yes, there are cases when a person faces much tougher problems, but he or she must be ready to face them. I just waited for my chance. I worked and I worked hard, waiting for my chance, got it and used that.
“I am not focusing on whether I am a key player for Manchester United or not, I am just trying to do my best to help the team and be part of the team.”
Mourinho, watching Mkhitaryan struggle against Man City, twigged that something was not quite right: this was not a typical ‘bad day at the office’; there was something more deeply rooted that needed addressing.
Throwing the Armenian in at the deep end, therefore, would have been counter-productive – destructive, even. He needed a period away from the action to absorb how the Premier League works and indeed how Mourinho wants every player to work.
Needless to say, there was something tangibly different about Mkhitaryan when he finally returned: he was pressing harder, needing fewer touches on the ball and bombing forward with greater purpose. His spell away from the action was met with resentment, but every supporter, in hindsight, will now point towards the importance of that set-back in the context of Mkhitaryan’s career.