The UEFA European Under-19 Championship kicks off in Yerevan on Sunday and hosts Armenia have gone right to the top in picking the ambassador for their first final tournament on home soil – the nation’s most famous footballing son, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, UEFA’s official website writes.
With 27 goals, Mkhitaryan is his nation’s all-time leading international goalscorer, and the midfielder has played for Shakhtar Donetsk, Borussia Dortmund, Manchester United and now Arsenal. His first appearance in a UEFA competition came at 15 in a U17 EURO qualifier against Turkey.
“I felt very proud. It has always been a particular pleasure for me to play in the national team, because we would compete against different national teams and players,” Henirkh told UEFA.
“It was a very good experience for us at that age, as we wouldn’t play those type of matches every week in our league,” he added.
Mkhitaryan said at that level he learnt that “football is quicker, with more pace and that you have to make faster decisions as you have less time to think.” “It also allows you to understand the exact level you are at when you play against other national teams, and what you have to improve.”
Henrikh said Zinédine Zidane was his favorite player at the time. “He was a Picasso on the pitch, playing incredibly with the ball, creating magic.”
Asked about the moment he is most proud of, Mkhitaryan said: “I never like to praise myself. Whatever I do, I do it with pleasure. So after my playing career, I will start thinking of the things that I can be proud of. The way I created myself, what I have achieved and where I am now – are what I am proud of.”
Speaking about the importance of hosting the competition, Mkhitaryan said “in Armenia, everyone loves football and people are very happy to host this competition, as it is a great opportunity to watch the future stars of European football.”
Henrikh advised the young players to have fun and enjoy every moment, because these kinds of games and competitions could be once in a lifetime. He wished the best of luck to every player.