Yuri Djorkaeff, a former France international of Armenian descent, is confident Henrikh Mkhitaryan will be on the top this season.
World Cup-winning legend Youri Djorkaeff – the Armenian’s old friend and one of his footballing idols.
Shortly after Manchester United’s Europa League final win over Ajax at the end of last season, World Cup-winning legend Djorkaeff tweeted an old photograph from his playing days.
Standing in training gear in front of a scruffy-looking pitch, it shows him with an arm around the shoulder of a young Henrikh Mkhitaryan. “That day you told me you would one day win the cup too,” he wrote. “You deserve it my friend!”
Djorkaeff, a former France international of Armenian descent who lifted the same trophy with Inter Milan in 1998, had just watched Mkhitaryan score United’s second goal in their 2-0 victory at the Friends Arena in Stockholm. “Seems like yesterday we took this picture and now I get to fulfil my goals like you,” wrote Mkhitaryan in reply.
It was a heartening exchange which highlighted Djorkaeff’s close ties to the Mkhitaryan family. He knew his father, Hamlet, a former player who tragically died of a brain tumour when Henrikh was just seven years old, and he remains close with his mother and sister, who now work for the Armenian Football Federation and UEFA respectively.
“I have known Henrikh’s family for a long, long time,” Djorkaeff tells Sky Sports. “We have always been connected. They are very, very good people and I often see them when I’m in Armenia. It’s important because there aren’t many of us. We have to support each other.”
“Henrikh is a nice guy who never complains,” Djorkaeff says. “At the beginning of the season he was not playing, he was not even on the bench with Mourinho, but game after game he won his position as a starter. He has always had that determination to challenge himself and train hard. We are very proud of him in Armenia.”
Mkhitaryan was not a guaranteed starter as Mourinho juggled his squad in the second half of the Premier League season, but no player was more important to their Europa League success. Djorkaeff is relaxed about Mkhitaryan’s prospects.
“You have to remember that he raised his level throughout the season,” he says. “He developed very well for both Manchester United and for himself. With the confidence of how he finished the season and after a year of learning the league and the club, I’m sure he will be at the top.”
“You need someone who can change a game in a second,” says Djorkaeff. “That’s Henrikh. His impact is not just scoring goals, it’s trying to find openings and attack efficiently. I’m sure it will be a big season for him.” He can be sure, too, that Mkhitaryan will back himself to make it happen – just like he always has.