As Manchester United fans, we are blessed with the opportunity to watch world-class players at Old Trafford and, aside from winning trophies, that is perhaps the best part of being a Red.
Through periods of success and disappointment, there has historically been at least one player of superstar quality who you feel genuinely lucky to watch. A man who alone justifies the cost of a ticket. Somebody who inspires that thundering sound of seats bouncing into upright positions as supporters stand for a better view of the action. A player who is the star attraction in a show packed with A-Listers.
Eric Cantona is the finest example from my lifetime, particularly as I was just a young boy during his showman-like reign and any chance to see him in the flesh was like winning the lottery. But there have been other Box Office attractions since: David Beckham in his untouchable prime, Wayne Rooney at his aggressive best, Cristiano Ronaldo in his peak years, and even Robin van Persie throughout his free-scoring debut season to name a few. As somebody who worshipped Paul Scholes, his second coming in January 2012 also prompted 18 months of absolute appreciation before his more definitive retirement.
The current squad is blessed with world-class talent and that begins at the back with David De Gea – yet goalkeepers aren’t the reason we love matchdays. Attacking players top the excitement charts as football is about creating and scoring goals, which is why Zlatan Ibrahimovic has quickly become a fans’ favourite.
Yet, in recent months, as the Swede has plundered 20 goals in all competitions, his fellow summer signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan has slowly emerged as another player who the supporters look to for entertainment, creativity and an influence on results. “If Micki plays well, then United do too,” is the common suggestion.
Such rocketing popularity is naturally aided by Mkhitaryan’s knack for scoring great goals: he impressively finished first, second and third in our December Goal of the Month poll, and even claimed the January award with his breakaway finish against Wigan Athletic. That result was particularly noteworthy because he narrowly beat Wayne Rooney’s historic free-kick at Stoke City that made him our all-time leading scorer.
Having netted another excellent, opportunist strike in Sunday’s 3-0 win at Leicester City, don’t be too surprised if he completes an unprecedented hat-trick by claiming our February prize next month.
Aside from finishing, Henrikh’s philosophy and approach to football deserves just as much credit. His desire to run through gangs of terrified defenders, causing migraines (not headaches) for the opposition, has only enhanced his appeal among generations of fans who have long idolised fearless dribblers like George Best or Ryan Giggs, arguably adding an element of nostalgia to the Armenian’s increasingly charm.
Those same supporters remain the true gauge of a player’s popularity and Mkhitaryan tellingly has a chant in his name, to the tune of Englishman in New York by Sting. Sing it once; it’ll stick with you all day.
Paddy Crerand discusses United’s flourishing playmaker in Saturday’s edition of United Review and the 1968 European Cup winner admits he is encouraged by what he is seeing. “A player with ferocious pace can sometimes lack brains but that is not the case with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who certainly has tremendous intelligence on the football pitch,” he writes. “His dynamic style has impressed me in recent weeks.”
Alas, while it remains too early to rank Mkhitaryan among the great entertainers in United history, our midfield Armenian is clearly establishing himself among United’s A-List this season.