(A.W.)—For those who haven’t heard the news, the Armenia National Football Team is turning into a pretty good team.
With some recent additions—like Yuri Movsisyan—and conflicting reports of the arrival of Dutch-Armenian Aras Ozbilis, 20, Armenia seems to be attracting Armenians, both born in and outside of Armenia. And because of that, Armenia can no longer be overlooked by other nations as a guaranteed victory.
Although currently ranked 60th in the Federation Internationale de Football Association’s (FIFA) national team rankings, it is an improvement of almost 40 places in just under two years.
Stability is one reason for Armenia’s good run of late. Vardan Minasyan was appointed as manager in February 2010 to lead the team through seven Euro 2012 Qualifying matches. And he’s proven he can be a long-term managerial fix—with three victories and finishing the year 2010 tied for second in their qualifying group (two points behind leaders Russia, who they play on March 26).
No matter how much the manager does off the field, however, the players have to execute the game plan on the field, and one of those players leading the way is known simply as “The Maestro.”
Weekly readers should get used to hearing this name: Henrikh Mkhitaryan. At only 22 years old, he already has top-flight European footballing experience.
Mkhitaryan started his career in Armenia, where he cracked the first team of Pyunik Yerevan at the ripe age of 17. His touch and feel for the ball quickly made him the regular mid-field starter—and he has never looked back.
In 70 appearances for Pyunik Yerevan, he’s scored 30 goals, rising in noticeability not only at the club level, but at the national team level as well.
Scoring 1 goal in only 5 appearances for the Under-17 National Team in 2006, he netted 1 goal in 6 run outs for the Under-19 during 2006-07, while still playing for the Under-17 side.
Quickly jumping up to the Under-21 squad, no sweat: 8 goals in 13 showing from 2006-10, while still also playing for the Under-19.
With all his advanced development, in January 2007, he made his first start for the Senior National Team. His score sheet since then reads 4 goals in only 19 appearances. Armenia is simply reaping the benefits of having such a young talent at their disposal.
With all his quick success, while showing little to no fatigue in the process, Mkhitaryan was voted Armenia’s Player of the Year in 2009, and it was no surprise that the other clubs around Europe took notice.
One of those clubs, Metalurh Donetsk from Ukraine, secured his services for the 2009-10 season for an undisclosed transfer fee.
From Armenian to Ukrainian football, it is a jump in pace and style, but Mkitaryan didn’t get that memo, scoring a goal in his debut against Belarusian Premier Club FC Partizan Minsk, in the Europa League on July 16, 2009.
His play was rewarded, and he was named captain of Metalurh on July 14, 2010, becoming the youngest captain in club history.
Scoring 9 goals in 29 appearances in the 2009-10 season, he added 3 goals in 8 matches to open the 2010-11 campaign.
But Mkitaryan was once again packed his bags after his 8th game. This time, he didn’t go far; just up the road to in-city rival club, Shakhtar Donetsk.
Pocketing a $7.5 million transfer fee, Metalurh were sad to see their captain go, but Mkitaryan needed a new challenge and Shakhtar saw the money as well-spent: In “The Maestro’s” first 6 appearances with the club, he scored 2 goals, picking up right where he left off with Metalurh.
With his scoring streak and sturdy play on the field, Mkitaryan caught the eye of the English sports channel Sky Sports, which ranked him as one of Europe’s “promising prospects,” adding that he “will surely have some of Europe’s giants come calling in the not too distant future.”
His play and dedication to the Armenian National Team is one reason the team has jelled and is becoming a major player in world football.
Another reason is his versatility in playing multiple positions.
Starting out as a mid-fielder, he has played the wing, up-front, as a striker and just behind the strikers, as a roaming, and attacking striker/mid-fielder. He can play any role in any formation.
When playing just behind the strikers, his preferred position, Mkhitaryan tears apart opposing defenses and opens up the field for his teammates to go for a goal or for him to attack.
He has wonderful vision, passing ability, and an eye for the goal, which is a deadly combination for any player to possess.
Yes, Mkitaryan is young and still needs time to develop his style and grow into his body. But if his current success is any indication of what he is capable of doing, with some more experience under his belt, the sky is the limit—not only for him, but for the National Team as well.