Regardless of whether Henrikh Mkhitaryan burned his own bridges at Manchester United or somebody carried out that arson attack for him, the Armenian finds himself on the wrong side of an Old Trafford divide that has him fast running out of ideas.
He did, of course, find himself in a similar position last season, with a crossing point eventually found which allowed him to rejoin the main group and contribute significantly to the hunt for major silverware.
The 29-year-old has, however, doubled back on himself and is now staring into the abyss once again as he ponders how he got to this point.
All appeared rosy in the Mkhitaryan garden at the end of the 2016-17 campaign, with a monopoly held over United’s Goal of the Month award as he added a Europa League winners’ medal to EFL Cup and Community Shield prizes.
A new season brought similar success, with a flurry of assists suggesting that the former Borussia Dortmund man was on course to become a staple part of Jose Mourinho’s plans heading forward – with Red Devils colleague Zlatan Ibrahimovic telling ESPN : “I think this season will be the season of Mkhitaryan. Last season he struggled a little bit in the beginning, then he came up when he started to play and this season he has opened the season fantastic.”
By November, that picture had altered considerably.
Mkhitaryan found himself slipping down the pecking order, with his value to the cause being questioned by the man with the power to make or break him , with Mourinho telling reporters: “I was not happy with his last performances. I'm not speaking about one or two, I'm speaking about three, four or five. He started the season very well and after that, step by step he was disappearing.”
That disappearing act could soon see a talented playmaker removed from the United fold entirely.
Since Mourinho made the aforementioned comment, Mkhitaryan has been awarded just two starts – with 65 minutes afforded to him against Southampton and just 45 in an FA Cup third round date with Derby.
Mourinho said after that half-time hooking: “[It was] unfair [to take him off] and I told him that at half-time. I didn’t like what I did. He didn’t deserve it, he was playing well, he wasn’t playing bad. Mkhi was the one that I sacrificed but it’s something that I don’t normally do but I did at half-time and apologised to him in front of other people because he didn’t deserve it.”
While the United boss may have been in apologetic mood afterwards , he was prepared to make the decision at the time – with his actions only serving to fan the transfer flames which have already started to sweep through Old Trafford.
Mkhitaryan is too good to be a fringe figure and it comes as no surprise to find that plenty of interest is being shown in him as the exit door creaks open in England.
Serie A title hopefuls Inter are among those reported to be heading the queue, with a possible swap deal mooted which could see Portugal international Joao Mario head in the opposite direction.
Nerazzurri boss Luciano Spalletti has said amid the rumours : “Mkhitaryan, [Javier] Pastore? You need €30-40 million to buy them. We don't have it. It's no use beating about the bush - I've been told that we can't spend €40m, so there's no point even talking about it. Maybe you could have an exchange of players on loan, but then you would need, for example, Manchester United to want one of our players, but you've both got to have the same intentions.”
While ruling out a possible deal one minute, the very next sentence uttered suggests that a trade would be considered.
That is a situation which could suit all parties, with there benefits to be found across the board.
Mkhitaryan needs to find somewhere where his obvious ability can be embraced – as it was at Dortmund – while Joao Mario has not been hailed as the greatest of success stories at Inter following a move from Sporting on the back of a Euro 2016 triumph with Portugal.
Mourinho is believed to be a fan of his fellow countryman and he could be considered a useful addition were the finer details of an exchange package to be ironed out.
|Recoveries (per game)||6.17||6.72|
United are in need of an industrious creative type to join their ranks of attacking widemen, and Joao Mario could be the perfect fit.
Since both he and Mkhitaryan completed big-money moves in the summer of 2016, the 24-year-old has contributed more assists to his respective cause across all competitions despite seeing fewer minutes.
Joao Mario has also created more chances during his time at Inter, while boasting better passing and crossing accuracy, greater dribble and duel success and making more recoveries per 90 minutes – further underling the value he could add in a system which sees Mourinho demand greater effort than Mkhitaryan is apparently showing.
United could also thrust their new recruit straight into their Champions League squad for the business end of that particular quest – allowing a hard-working performer the opportunity to grace a continental stage for the first time in two years following a Financial Fair Play-enforced omission from Inter’s Europa League ranks last term.
All in all, there appears to be few risks involved in a trade agreement.
For Mkhitaryan, then, the answer to his current dilemma may be to stop looking for an elusive bridge and instead jump on a plane which carries him far away from Manchester and past Joao Mario on his way to Milan.