Dortmund - Borussia Dortmund needed a technically gifted, goalscoring midfielder to replace the departed Mario Götze in the 2013/14 summer transfer window and they found the ideal candidate in Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
One of Europe’s most exciting attacking players, the Armenian international arrived at BVB having won seven trophies in three seasons, as well as the league’s top goalscoring award, at previous club FC Shakhtar Donetsk. bundesliga.com presents ten things you might not have known about Dortmund’s star Armenian...
Although born in the Armenian capital of Yerevan on 21 January 1989, Mkhitaryan spent his childhood years in south-eastern France. His father, Hamlet, a respected professional player in his homeland, who would go on to become an Armenian international, accepted an offer to move to France and play for the now defunct ASOA Valence, just months after Henrikh’s birth. Tragically, Hamlet died of a brain tumor at the age of just 33, after which the Mkhitaryans left France to move back to Yerevan in 1995.
Upon returning to Yerevan, Henrikh already knew what career he wanted to pursue. “When I was a child I’d watch my father play and always wanted to follow him to training,” he told shakhtar.com in 2012. “When he didn’t take me I’d stay by the door crying. I always wanted to become a footballer and I thank my parents, who helped me so much to realise this dream.” Mkhitaryan joined Yerevan’s biggest club FC Pyunik in 1995, developing into one of the country’s most talented players.
Star in the making
After three seasons in Pyunik’s senior team, he left Armenia for Ukrainian Premier League side FC Metalurh Donetsk in 2009. Following a staggering first season in which he scored 14 goals and became the club’s youngest-ever captain, he moved across the city to Shakhtar. With the Pitmen he only got better, helping them win three successive domestic doubles, whilst becoming the division’s top scorer in 2012/13 with 25 goals. He also appeared in every one of Shakhtar’s UEFA Champions League games in 2013/14, including against BVB.
Mkhitaryan is widely recognised as Armenia’s best active player. He was voted his country’s Footballer of the Year in 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014, as well as the CIS (Baltic and Commonwealth of Independent States) Footballer of the Year in 2012, making him the first Armenian player to win the award since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. In 2012, he won the IFFHS (International Federation of Football History & Statistics) award for Most Popular Footballer Among Currently Active Players and has a prolific record for Armenia.
Realistic and flexible
Despite being at Dortmund for two years now, Mkhitaryan still doesn't expect to be able to walk into the team, especially with a new head coach, Thomas Tuchel, at the helm. "I'm not guaranteed to start," he said. "In every training session and match, I have to start from scratch and earn it. We've been changing things up a fair bit so that the new coach can see who can play where. I don't mind where I end up at the end of the day."
Somewhat unsurprisingly for an attacking midfielder who grew up in France, Mkhitaryan’s footballing idol is former Real Madrid CF and French World Cup-winning midfielder Zinedine Zidane. “I really appreciated his style of play and what he did on the pitch. He was like a magician to me.”
During his time at Shakhtar, Mkhitaryan was known for not living in his own apartment but at the club’s training ground. Speaking to Armenian newspaper panorama.am in February 2013 he said, “Since I’ve become something of an idol, I prefer to just concentrate on my football. My team-mates do tease me sometimes though. They even nicknamed me President [of the training ground].” He did, however, take up Dortmund’s offer to find him his own apartment.
Living abroad as a child has given Mkhitaryan a talent for learning languages. As well as his mother tongue Armenian, he speaks French, Russian, English and Portuguese. English is the one he’d “like to improve most”, however, as he revealed to panorama.am. His German's coming on, too.
His entire family have a grounding in professional football. While he and his father succeeded on the field, the women in his family have made their living off it. His mother Marina is head of the national teams department at the Armenia Football Federation, while his sister Monica works for UEFA. Mkhitaryan’s biggest role model remains his dad, though: “I believe he watches me and is proud of me.”
Still young, Mkhitaryan nevertheless insists that he has no plans to continue working in football once he has retired. “I don’t see myself becoming a coach, that isn’t my cup of tea. I don’t want my hair turning grey that quickly!” Instead, life after football will likely be business-oriented for Mkhitaryan, who has a diploma from the Institute of Physical Culture in Armenia and was taking a degree in Economics at the St Petersburg Institute, Yerevan branch before leaving the Ukraine. “When I graduate, I want to study as a lawyer.”