Tuesday 20 March 2018

Man United coaching team had doubts about signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan during Louis van Gaal's reign

Henrikh Mkhitaryan in action for United
Henrikh Mkhitaryan in action for United

Mark Ogden

Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s ability to cope with the physical demands of English football prompted doubts among Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United coaching team over his suitability for the Premier League.

Mkhitaryan, a £26.3m summer signing from Borussia Dortmund, has fallen out of favour under Jose Mourinho since being hauled off at half-time during the 2-1 defeat against Manchester City at Old Trafford on September 10.

The Armenia midfielder, who suffered a thigh injury on international duty prior to the derby defeat against City, could return to the squad for Wednesday’s EFL Cup tie against Pep Guardiola’s team after proving his fitness in training over the past week.

But despite being fully-fit for over a week, Mkhitaryan was omitted from the squads for the Europa League clash at home to Fenerbahce last Thursday and did not even travel to London for Sunday’s 4-0 defeat against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Mourinho is yet to explain his reluctance to hand the 27-year-old a chance to redeem himself following his poor performance against City, when his failure to close down defender Aleksandar Kolarov was cited as a key factor in Kevin De Bruyne’s opening goal for the visitors.

But The Independent understands that concerns over Mkhitaryan’s suitability for the Premier League emerged before Mourinho completed a move for the player in the summer.

Despite impressing for Dortmund during the German club’s dramatic Europa League defeat against Liverpool at Anfield in April, key figures within the United coaching team under Van Gaal were wary of pursuing a move for Mkhitaryan.

Although Shinji Kagawa made a bright start at United after arriving from Dortmund in the summer of 2012, the Japanese midfielder struggled to sustain his early performances and found the physical demands of English football too great before being sold back to the German outfit two years later.

And Kagawa’s struggles led to fears that Mkhitaryan would suffer the same problems due to the perception that players signed from the Bundesliga are ill-equipped for the Premier League.

With players afforded more time and space in the more technical German league, those arriving from the Bundesliga are often taken aback by the greater physicality in England and requirement to tackle and win personal duels with an opposite number.

Mkhitaryan’s performance against City highlighted those flaws in his game and Mourinho has not selected him since.

Despite suggestions that the signing was already secured before Mourinho took charge at United, it is understood that the former Chelsea manager was keen to sign the player and that his acquisition was sanctioned by Mourinho.

His prolonged absence from the team, it is understood, is merely due to Mourinho believing that the player has yet to adjust to the intensity of English football.

Independent News Service

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport