Shakthar Donetsk is arguably Ukraine’s most successful club at this point in time in their current history, appearing in the lucrative Champions League year after year. The Ukrainian outfit has won the last four Ukrainian Premier League titles, in succession and has also won an astounding 7 of the last 8 championships with Dynamo Kyiv winning the other one. But they have not always been the top dogs in Ukraine. Shakthar have a very deep squad that goes down all the way to their academy, but a mix of Brazilian players like Taison, Maicon, Douglas Costa, Wellington Nem, Ilsinho, and Ukrainian players such as Andriy Pyatov, Taras Stepanenko, and young Ukrainian defender Serihy Kryvtsov help build the club into the powerhouse that it is today.
The lone Armenian player in the squad, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, is making quite a name for himself after an impressive showing in the Champions League this past season and has moved onto the radar of many of the top European Clubs. Henrikh has also performed well for the Armenian national team already making close to 40 appearances and having already netted more than ten times at the ripe age of just 24 years old.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan was born on 21 January 1989 in the Armenian capital of Yerevan. He arrived in the Ukraine back in 2010 after a brief season with another Ukrainian club, Metalurh Donetsk. Mkhitaryan’s father was a very prolific striker back in the 80s for FC Ararat Yerevan before moving to play in France for a short time. Unfortunately, Henrikh’s father died of a brain tumor when he was just seven years of age.
Mkhitaryan joined the youth system of Pyunik FC at just six years of age. He would stay with the club his whole childhood and earned his first salary at 15. Two years later, at the age of 17, Henrikh would have the chance to prove that he has what it takes to earn a permanent spot in the first side. The Armenian midfielder would do just that, for four seasons between 2006 and 2009. During his time there he would win four consecutive Armenian league titles, two Armenian Supercups, and one Armenian Cup during his final season with the club. His spectacular performances with the first club, after 35 goals in 89 appearances in all competitions with the club, he made the move to Metalurh Donetsk of the Ukrainian Premier League.
In his first match with his new squad, Henrikh scored a goal in a 3-0 victory over Belarusian Premier League side FC Partisan Minsk, in a Europa League qualifying. Metalurh faced Slovenian’s Interblock Ljubljana in the next qualifying round, and scored again in the return leg, where eventually his side won on aggregate 5-0. Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s first league match came in a 0-0 draw with Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk. As a whole that season, he earned a total of 38 appearances for Metalurh across all competitions while scoring 14 times that season. The following season, he became the youngest captain ever at Metalurh, when he was named captain on July 14th, at just 21 years of age. Because of his consistent performances with Metalurh over the past two seasons, he made the switch to Shakthar Donetsk where he would continue to improve his game greatly.
Henrikh’s debut for his new club did not come right away as he had to work hard in training to show his new coaching staff that he does in fact have what it takes to become a regular starter at a more established club. His debut finally came on September 10th in an away defeat to Obolon Kyiv, and would be subbed out in the 62nd minute by Brazilian midfielder, Eduardo. That season was rather successful for Shakthar as the won the Ukrainian treble, by winning the Premier League, the Ukrainian Supercup, and the Ukrainian Cup. Mkhitaryan’s first goal for Shakthar came on September 19th in a 4-1 home win, where he would score the fourth goal of the match after they came back from one goal down and he also played that whole match.
This past season was a breakout year for the Armenian midfielder as he amassed a total of 25 league goals, which is now a Ukrainian Premier League record. During the season, he also earned his 100th league match in the Ukraine on March 16th of this year.
Styles, Strengths, and Weaknesses
Henrikh is most prolific when he is playing right behind the first striker. When he is behind the central striker with the ball, space opens up for the Armenian midfielder and creates fantastic goal scoring opportunities with his great vision of the play happening in front of him and finding the perfect pass to his surrounding teammates. For anyone that had ever watched his father play in the 80s, many people say that his style of play emulates that of his father.
His creativity, technique, and movement, all help confuse the back four of many defenses across the Ukrainian Premier League. And because of what he can provide for his national team, Mkhitaryan pretty much has an automatic spot in the national team as he is by far one of the best, if not the best midfielder on the current Armenian roster, with all the experience he has, it is almost a guarantee that he will be in the Armenian team for all of their major matches.
Mkhitaryan’s work rate is absolutely sensational. It seems like he never takes a second off from the play, whenever I have seen him. Henrikh will help build up play starting from the half way line as the back four retain possession. Then, if the play ever broke down because of a bad pass, or whatever the reason may be, Henrikh will track all the way back to help out his defense. In other words, he never stops running, ever. I do not know where he gets all of the energy that he does for the full ninety minutes.
The Chelsea great Pat Nevin has once said, “Eleven goals in eight league matches already is fantastic, when you add that he is a midfielder, it is phenomenal. You may not have heard of him yet, even if all the scouts at the top European clubs have, but you soon will. He has pace, skill, a rocket of a shot and the ability to arrive in the box like Frank Lampard. This all singles him out as a player who must be watched or more importantly marked.” What Pat Nevin has said about Henrikh is all true, he is very similar to that of current Chelsea and England midfielder Frank Lampard with his goal scoring ability even though he is a midfielder. So, you could almost say that he is a box-to-box midfielder, even though that is not always where he gets slotted into the starting line-up.
There is not a whole lot of Mkhitaryan’s game that I do not like. The only thing that can be said about his game is that he does not always play the perfect pass to his teammates. But then again, who really does? Even the fantastic Real Madrid midfielder, Xabi Alonso will misplace a pass from time to time, all of the greatest players do. Henrikh Mkhitaryan is certainly one to watch for the future with the more exposure he will get due to the Champions League, the more people will hear about him.
A few weeks ago, Liverpool announced that the Armenian midfielder was their number one summer transfer target, according to various England newspapers including, the Guardian, Independent, and many others. However, if Liverpool are going to sign him this summer, they will need to pay the £20m price tag that was slapped on him by the Shakthar Donetsk board.
Many other clubs are interested in him, such as Bayern Munich, Manchester City, and Chelsea, also want the exuberant midfielder. His current deal with the Ukrainian club lasts until June of 2015, so if a bigger European club wants his signature, they will most likely have to pay a hefty buyout clause. However, what they will get is a very consistent midfielder who will work hard every day in training to continue his craft and will always give all he has in each and every match he plays in.