Manchester United’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan Brings Armenia With Him

MANCHESTER, England — Henrikh Mkhitaryan would be forgiven for not wanting to take his work home with him. His first season in the Premier League has, after all, been a demanding one, enough to make anyone cherish any chance at all to switch off.

There has been the battle to win a place and establish his presence at Manchester United; a collection of wonderful, occasionally gravity-defying goals once he settled in; and then, as the campaign reached its climax, a relentless workload — games piling up in great drifts, culminating in Wednesday’s Europa League final against Ajax in Stockholm.

That would be enough, but Mkhitaryan has always been one of those players who struggle to relax. Early in his career, he tended to switch off his phone for “three days before a game,” so determined was he to focus on the task in hand.

Looking back, at 28, he knows that such intensity was unhealthy; he often felt “sad” for days after games, brooding over every perceived error, reproaching himself for every defeat, screening the calls of his friends and family in case he took out his frustration on them.

He is better at it now, he says, persuaded that it was counterproductive if his “muscles were tense all the time,” but even now it remains a deliberate thing, requiring a conscious effort. He finds it hard to take it easy.

He tries, actively, to take his mind off soccer as much as he can. Mkhitaryan has a regular supper club with his teammates Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba; he goes to the movies as often as time allows. He seeks distraction so he might focus better when needed.

He makes just one exception. No matter how draining his week, Mkhitaryan, the $34 million superstar, always spends hours on YouTube watching grainy coverage of dubious-quality soccer from his native Armenia.

He does not do it for pleasure, particularly; the standard is not a patch on what he experiences in England, even in training. Because there are only six teams in Armenia’s highest league, he admits, he finds the games a little repetitive.

He does it partly out of loyalty, to Pyunik, the team where he first made his name, and to his friends still playing in his homeland. Mainly, though, he does it because no matter where he is or who he has become, a little bit of Mkhitaryan is always in Armenia, at home.