What's happened to Man Utd misfit Henrikh Mkhitaryan?
The Armenian hasn't played since the derby day defeat to Man City and there are plenty of theories why
Manchester United face relegation favourites Burnley at Old Trafford in the Premier League tomorrow, with the continued absence of summer signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan now a major talking point among the fans.
The Armenian playmaker has not been seen in a United shirt since he was hauled off at half-time in the derby defeat to Man City on 10 September. It was his first, and so far only, start for the club that signed him for £26m five months ago.
Explaining his substitutions at the time, manager Jose Mourinho said he was "disappointed with some really poor individual performances... I thought individual qualities of certain players would give me what I want and I didn't get it."
Mkhitaryan, it seems, is paying a high price for his inability to carry out his boss's wishes, because it is clear Mourinho has lost his faith in the player who he himself signed from Borussia Dortmund, where he scored 23 goals last season.
"The continuing absence of Henrikh Mkhitaryan is a mystery, in all but one sense," says Tony Cascarino in The Times, marvelling at the fact he even failed to make the bench for the EFL Cup game against Man City this week. "This is Mourinho's way. If he does not fancy a player, for whatever reason, he will not give them an opportunity to prove him wrong on the pitch."
But it could be about more than his performances for United, says Samuel Luckhurst of the Manchester Evening News. "Personality might explain the Armenian's baffling absences from match day squads," he says,
"Mkhitaryan is an introvert and a polyglot, fluent in Armenian, Russian, French, German, Portuguese and English... [and] one of the more articulate United squad members," he says. But that cuts no ice with the manager because he chooses "to value character over talent".
Morgan Schneiderlin, "another reserved personality", has also been frozen out, while Juan Mata, sold by Mourinho while at Chelsea, has developed a "steely edge" in order to win over the manager.
But that isn't the only claim about his absence. Some Mancunian conspiracy theorists believe he was only "signed to guarantee Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, two other clients of super-agent Mino Raiola, ended up at Old Trafford", says the Daily Mail. Although that is something the club, unsurprisingly, refutes.
United have also denied that Mkhitaryan will leave in January, and, despite seven weeks in the wilderness and counting, the player is reportedly determined to make a success of his time in Manchester.
"Mkhitaryan is training intensively in an attempt to return to the first-team and has no intention of leaving United in the January transfer window," reports the Manchester Evening News, while the Mail believes that the Armenian's mysterious seven-week absence could be down to caution rather than a cold-shoulder.
"The feeling at United is that Mkhitaryan is one of those players who needs to be 100 per cent right, both physically and mentally, to perform. The club are aware that he also had a relatively slow start at Dortmund in 2013. It's understood they want to make sure Mkhitaryan is completely ready rather than risk another bad performance that could seriously damage his confidence."