On Tuesday, chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke confirmed what many saw coming: Henrikh Mkhitaryan won’t extend his current contract – running until 2017 – at Borussia Dortmund. Watzke also confirmed Mkhitaryan will be staying another year and can then leave on a free transfer, but is that really the better option than selling the Armenia international now?
First we have to take a look at the club’s situation and all confirmed transfers to understand the significance of this decision.
Dortmund are undoubtedly a top 15 club in the world but aren’t among the true top tier of clubs which don’t ever lose a player they don’t want to lose. It’s just natural and a part of the business to lose one of your key players once in a while for almost every club in the world.
But this season is different for Dortmund, as they have already lost two key players. The transfer of Ilkay Gündogan was to be expected already before the season, but with the rather surprising move of Mats Hummels to Bayern Munich, the two most important players for Thomas Tuchel’s build-up play have left the club.
Now Mkhitaryan is one of the few players left in the squad who can link up play between midfield and attack regularly. He could even take over some of Gündogan’s duties and play more centrally and deeper next season, as it seems as though Dortmund won’t sign a creative midfielder to replace Gündogan like for like.
Another year of Mkhitaryan at Dortmund would also mean another year for Dortmund’s youngsters to develop in his shadow. If some or just one of them develops as hoped, it isn’t far fetched to say they could fully replace Mkhitaryan by 2017.
Sporting wise it seems to be logical to keep the Armenian around for as long as possible. Seeing that Dortmund are in a good financial situation, they don’t rely on a possible transfer fee either.
But will Mkhitaryan be able to perform under those precarious circumstances? And will he even be motivated to?
It has been well documented that Mkhitaryan is relatively sensitive for a football player and has just played his first really good season for the Black and Yellows. He also just shied away from taking a penalty when it counted in the DFB-Pokal final against Bayern last month. So will he be able to perform in an environment his agent says he doesn’t really want to be in and where not everyone is his friend anymore?
We can obviously just speculate if that will be the case, but we can at least assume that the majority of the stadium won’t turn on Mkhitaryan as they never did that with Lewandowski in a similar situation.
As for Mkhitaryan’s motivation: He’s turning 28 next season and is most probably playing for the last big contract of his life and a bad season won’t do him any favors in that regard. He basically has to play very well in order to spark interest in a club of his liking.
Not selling Mkhitaryan, or at least not for a comparatively little fee, would also send a message to players and agents that it isn’t a good idea to try and force Dortmund’s hand in those matters. If they do indeed sell their No. 10 for a small fee, other agents might get the idea to start similar shenanigans once their clients think about changing clubs.
So is there any scenario in which it would make sense to sell Mkhitaryan?
The most important factor here is a possible replacement. It’s not as much about replacing last season’s production of 23 goals and 32 assists, as nobody even knows if Mkhitaryan himself can come close to that again. It’s about replacing what he brings to the team. His strategic and playmaking abilities, first and foremost.
The only rumored replacements so far have been Andre Schürrle and Mario Götze. The first offers neither the strategic nor the playmaking abilities Dortmund need and, while the latter does offer those qualities, he seems out of shape, may not even want to join BVB and a lot of fans wouldn’t be very happy about that signing.
The only possibility that would make selling Mkhitaryan seem smart would be if a great replacement miraculously turns up, wants to join BVB and costs less than the Armenian would bring in. Until that happens, Dortmund seem better off holding on to their No. 10 for another season.