Much was made of the France international’s world-record fee last summer, but it is his fellow midfielder whose lower price tag is raising eyebrows
When asked this week about Paul Pogba, Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho defended the midfielder’s £89 million price tag, claiming that in years to come the amount spent on the France international will be deemed cheap given his quality and the potential for other such deals around the globe.
The Portuguese may yet be proven right, with Pogba having shown flashes of his potential brilliance in recent months after a somewhat slow start to life upon his Old Trafford return. But if Mourinho is looking to gloat about his first summer of transfer business in charge of the Red Devils, he need look no further than Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Signed for just £26m in pre-season, the Armenia international in recent weeks could have fooled some uneducated supporters into believing that he — not Pogba — was the man brought in for a world-record fee.
It may have taken some time for the former Borussia Dortmund midfielder to settle in England, with his sole start against Manchester City in the opening weeks of the campaign threatening to go into United folklore for all the wrong reasons.
But unlike Angel Di Maria and Memphis Depay before him, Mkhitaryan has been able to answer those who questioned his suitability for United and then some. Against Blackburn on Sunday he was — at least until Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba entered the fray — the best player on the pitch.
His through-ball with the outside of his foot that set Marcus Rashford free to equalise Danny Graham’s opener was sublime, but that was the highlight of yet another hugely impressive showing.
Sat behind Rashford, he proved a constant menace with his direct running while his composure and passing in the final third was in stark contrast to the inexperienced players around him. His influence faded as Mourinho rung the changes and altered his system in a bid to avoid a replay that would have been greeted at Old Trafford by less enthusiasm than if it was announced that David Moyes and Louis van Gaal were to return as joint directors of football. But that is not to take away from Mkhitaryan’s contribution to United finding a way back into the game.
This display was just of a series since his return to the fold in November that have proven to Mourinho and United fans that they have a player who — at 28 — is enjoying the best form of his career. Mkhitaryan has the potential to form part of a fearsome attacking machine once the club has completed the rebuild of a squad that was left in a worrying state by Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure four years ago.
It could even be argued that Mkhitaryan represents the best bit of business United have done since Ferguson’s retirement. Though some will point to the free signing of Ibrahimovic, he realistically will only be around for two to three seasons while Mkhitaryan is likely to double that and remain a regular within the starting XI. Pogba certainly has more time on his side, but at over three times the cost of Mkhitaryan he already has a long way to go to return on the promise of such a fee.
For Mkhitaryan, though, his time his now and at present he is one of the first names on Mourinho’s teamsheet. Three months ago that did not seem remotely possible, but the £26m man has already gone some way to paying off that rather moderate fee.