Henrikh Mkhitaryan: Jose Mourinho was never able to get the best out of me

by Leo Nieboer

Henrikh Mkhitaryan has hit out at Jose Mourinho for failing to get the best out of him during his time at Manchester United.

The Armenian, despite a strong start to the season, quickly dwindled in the No.10 with a series of anonymous displays and lost his place in the starting XI in November.

He ultimately joined Arsenal over the January transfer window in a straight swap deal that saw Alexis Sanchez head the other way.

And Mkhtaryan, reflecting on his time at Old Trafford, suggested that Mourinho was too defensively oriented for him to truly flourish.

“Everyone knows Arsenal play offensive football, and I love to play offensive football,” he said.

“In Manchester we were playing offensive football too but not in every game, so it was quite different.

“I don’t want to blame anyone because every manager at every club has a different philosophy. Maybe I couldn’t fit perfectly in the Manchester football.”

The Man United boss has emphasised time and time again this season that his teams defend together and attack together – a principle integral to the very shape and feel of his style on the pitch.

In other words, no player – not even Cristiano Ronaldo – is exempt from fighting for the team at the back, tracking opponents, and keeping a lid on the game when needed. This is vital to Mourinho; historic moments such as the Nou Camp in 2010 and Anfield in 2014 would not have happened without it.

At Arsenal, however, Mkhitaryan is allowed to maintain a cosy position up the pitch and hear nice things from Arsene Wenger – a man all too willing to accept the status quo rather than make tough but necessary decisions. At Old Trafford he was driving off-road, hurtling around landmines; at the Emirates he finds himself relaxing in a limo.

And this may suit him nicely. But he has essentially made a tacit deal with the footballing gods by joining Arsenal: that he will not win big games, nor win big trophies, nor even enter the top four, but will, crucially, play a form of football which better suits his style.

Whether that is the mindset of a professional – a proper Mourinho player – is something I’ll leave you to decide.

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