Henrikh Mkhitaryan: Borussia Dortmund's Biggest Disappointment

Allan JiangTransfers CorrespondentDecember 15, 2014

Dortmund's Henrikh Mkhitaryan of Armenia plays the ball during the German first division Bundesliga soccer match between Hannover 96 and  BvB Borussia Dortmund in Hannover, Germany, Saturday, March 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber).
Markus Schreiber/Associated Press

Henrikh Mkhitaryan's season for Borussia Dortmund has gone from bad to worse. 

"[Mkhitaryan] felt a tweak [in his thigh]," Borussia Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp said, per BVB.de. "It's very likely that he'll miss the rest of the first half of the season."

Signed from Shakhtar Donetsk for €27.5/£21.8 million in 2013, Mkhitaryan, 25, is veering perilously toward transfer-bust territory.

Having relinquished Mario Gotze to Bayern Munich for €37/£29.3 million, Borussia Dortmund advanced talks with Mkhitaryan, aware that the Armenian was a legitimate transfer target for Liverpool.

Dortmund secured Mkhitaryan before Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers had time to memorise his recruiting spiel.

"We had got permission to speak to [Mkhitaryan]," Rodgers said, per James Pearce at the Liverpool Echo. "Unfortunately I didn't get the chance to sit down in front of him."

Despite the commonalities of the No. 10 shirt, world-class technique, burden of high expectations and being a natural game-winner, Mkhitaryan distanced himself from Gotze, the ex-Borussia Dortmund star.

"[Gotze is] a very good player, but a different type of player," Mkhitaryan said, per FIFA.com. "You can't really compare the two of us."

Bundesliga 2013-14Gotze Mkhitaryan 
Goals Per Game0.370.29
Goals Per Minute184274.4
Shots Per Goal5.27.8
Shots On Target %44.242.9
Key Passes Per Game1.41.6
Pass Completion %87.976.7
Passes Per Game4436.5
Dribbles Per Game3.62.9

Gotze was a more statistically superior footballer than Mkhitaryan last season.

However, Mkhitaryan was a more financially efficient transfer.

Mkhitaryan cost Borussia Dortmund €1.4/£1.1 million per goal/assist, compared to Gotze's €2.1/£1.7 million. 

Bundesliga 2013-14GotzeMkhitaryan
Bild Player Ranking3426
Kicker Player Ranking5339

Subjectively, the German press graded Mkhitaryan higher than Gotze.

Why was this the case? 

Mkhitaryan scored, assisted, opened up opposing defences with his dribbling, hassled to win back the ball and functioned in different roles. 

Presumably, Bild and Kicker viewed Mkhitaryan as a more all-round footballer than Gotze.

"I'm not worried about the transfer fee," Mkhitaryan said, per Eurosport. "I hope Borussia Dortmund don't regret a cent of it."

Bundesliga 2014-15Gotze Mkhitaryan 
Goals Per Game0.500
Goals Per Minute134.40
Shots Per Goal3.90
Shots On Target %44.420.6
Key Passes Per Game1.61.6
Pass Completion %86.372.8
Passes Per Game41.637.7
Dribbles Per Game1.83.8
Bundesliga 2014-15GotzeMkhitaryan
Bild Player Ranking6149
Kicker Player Ranking37169

Mkhitaryan's debut Bundesliga season was meant to be a stepping stone toward greatness. Instead, he has had a dramatic regression both statistically and subjectively. 

"We played a kind of football [that] is absolutely pointless," Klopp said after a 2-1 defeat to Koln, per BBC Sport. "We just made it too easy for our opponents."

The poster boy of "absolutely pointless" football is Mkhitaryan, who at times runs aimlessly, misplaces simple passes and is a wasteful shooter.

His volume shooting is nothing new, having choked in front of goal against Real Madrid.

"People watching must have thought I was trying to miss, when in fact I was the guy on the pitch who wanted to score most," Mkhitaryan said, per Die Welt (h/t Bernie Reeves at Bundesliga.com). "It was an unhappy moment in my life. ... Sometimes life is like that, though."

Going from scoring 29 goals in a season for Shakhtar Donetsk to no goals in 936 minutes of Bundesliga play indicates there is a mental disconnect when Mkhitaryan shapes up to shoot.

Regarding Mkhitaryan's shooting form, you can only surmise that what use to be an instinctive feeling has been replaced by doubt and hesitancy.

Those two negative adjectives also describe the current abject state of Mkhitaryan's football IQ, which was his best attribute, according to Shakhtar Donetsk manager Mircea Lucescu.

"[Mkhitaryan's] game awareness is perhaps his most valuable quality," Lucescu said, per Jonathan Wilson at The Guardian. "He's one of the players who most consistently fulfils the tasks set by the coaching staff."

Mkhitaryan giving away possession 27.2 percent of the time he passes shows his awareness levels have declined from very high to very low. 

It is not a lack of passing ability, as Mkhitaryan is a two-footed technician who trained alongside Lucas Moura, Hernanes and Oscar at Sao Paulo.

Slow decision making, an inability to read the movements of opposing defenders and holding on to the ball too long have factored into Mkhitaryan's drastic form slump.

It is not all Mkhitaryan's fault, however, because Klopp is partly culpable. 

"Mkhitaryan fits us like a [backside] in a bucket," Klopp said, per Bild (h/t ESPN FC). "What he offers is exactly what we need."

Actions speak louder than words.

Mkhitaryan was the main man under Lucescu, yet he is treated by Klopp like a utility player.

Mkhitaryan lacks an identity at Borussia Dortmund.

Shifting across midfield and being asked to do more defending (27 tackles, 17 interceptions), Mkhitaryan would function better as a No. 8 than a No. 10 or No. 11. 

This is the antithesis to what Borussia Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc envisioned Mkhitaryan as, per BVB.de: "We are delighted that we got a fantastic new signing [in Mkhitaryan] for the [central] attacking-midfield role."

Klopp is to Mkhitaryan what Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is to Mesut Ozil.

"Liverpool...have a great past, but BVB have a great present," Mkhitaryan said, per BVB.de. "BVB [will] never regret for a second the money spent on me."

  • Past: Bundesliga champions.
  • Present: On course for 2. Bundesliga.
  • Future: Possible byword to Klopp's firing.

"No more [Marcio] Amoroso deals," Borussia Dortmund chief executive officer Hans-Joachim Watzke said in 2005, per Deutsche Welle, a reference to the pricey Brazilian's confidence and injury-riddled tenure at the Westfalenstadion. 

Watzke is probably thinking to himself: "As a person, Mkhitaryan is nicer than Amoroso. As a footballer, they are both big-money disappointments with durability issues."



When not specified, statistics via WhoScored.com.


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