In a revealing article in The Players’ Tribune, Manchester United’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan has opened up on why his late father Hamlet continues to be his inspiration.
The Armenia captain tragically lost his dad when only seven years old due to a brain tumour and it naturally had a profound effect on his childhood. By somehow summoning up the strength to follow in his father’s footsteps, he has not only emulated Hamlet’s achievement of representing his country but is now appearing for one of the biggest clubs in the world.
“When you walk onto the pitch at Old Trafford, it is not just a pitch, it is a stage,” the attacking midfielder said. “If my father could see me on that stage, I think he would be very proud.
“I was always kind of chasing him and I think, even though he’s not here, he helped me to get to this place. If he was still alive, maybe I would be a lawyer or a doctor right now. Instead, I am a footballer.
“The year after my father died, I started football training,” he added. “He was the drive for me, he was my idol. I said to myself, I have to run just like him. I have to shoot just like him.
“By the time I was 10 years old, my entire life was football. Training, reading, watching, even playing football on PlayStation. I was totally focused on it. I especially loved the creative players — the maestros. I always wanted to play like [Zinedine] Zidane, Kaká and Hamlet. (Pretty good company for my father).”
The decision to head to Brazil as a 13-year-old to train with Sao Paulo for four months must have been an extraordinarily difficult one to take but it helped broaden the youngster’s horizons and develop his playing style.
“That was one of the most interesting times of my life, because I was a very shy kid from Armenia who didn’t speak any Portuguese,” he admitted. “But I didn’t care at all because, to me, I was getting to go to football paradise.
“I dreamed of being like Kaká, and Brazil was the home of that creative style, which the Brazilians call ginga. That time was very important to me, because it shaped my style as a player. When I returned to Armenia after four months in Brazil, I was still quite skinny and weak, but I had technique and skill. I was feeling very free on the pitch. I was feeling like the Armenian Ronaldinho. (Ha ha ha ha. No, I’m joking).”
Thankfully, United’s fans are now able to enjoy the ‘Armenian Ronaldinho’ after narrowly failing to sign the Brazilian star during Sir Alex Ferguson’s time in charge. The Old Trafford faithful have had to be patient but are clearly now falling in love with the summer signing from Borussia Dortmund.
“I knew it would be a challenge to leave a good situation at Dortmund and succeed at United,” he said. “But I did not want to sit in my chair as an old man and have any regrets. I was ready to move.
“When the deal was done and dusted, I sat down to sign the contract with United and that’s when it hit me. That’s when I realised that this big move to the Premier League was really happening.
“I will never forget that moment, nor will I forget the time I put on the red Manchester United shirt before my first training session with the club. It made me feel so happy and proud about what I had achieved in my career.
“At the beginning of this season at United, I suffered an injury and have not had many chances to play. It would be fair to say that the start of my life in Manchester was not perfect. But there have been many other times when I’ve had setbacks, and I have never given up. I will continue working every day so that I can help the team succeed.”
Having overcome incredible adversity in the past, there is every reason to expect Mkhitaryan to continue achieving his goals and become a firm favourite at United.
For the full, extensive must-read interview with Henrikh Mkhitaryan on his upbringing and football career so far, visit theplayerstribune.com.