‘The Living Years’ is considered one of the most successful songs ever released by the band named Mike + the Mechanics. It is about a father who sees his father in his newborn son and regrets not being able to tell everything he had to. Anyway, on to the football. We all know who Henrikh Mkhitaryan is. But, what about his father, Hamlet? Hamlet Mkhitaryan was an Armenian footballer who had impressed Soviet football spectators during his early days as a footballer. In this story, we will cover the career of a footballer who passed away too early, and whose son went on to become the greatest footballer to have ever come out of Armenia.
We will take a look at his early life first. Hamlet Habetnaki Mkhitaryan was born on 14 September 1962 in Yerevan, Armenian SSR, USSR. Not much is known about his early life. In 1980, he would make his professional debut with Ararat Yerevan, a football club in Armenia who had won the Soviet Top League seven years ago. Part of an exciting new generation of footballers, he was known to the spectators as a dynamic, quick-footed second striker. One can say that he was similar to Roberto Baggio in terms of position – a “nine and a half”, a term coined by Michel Platini to describe Baggio. Hamlet was so talented that he was even awarded a newly-established prize named ‘Knight of Attack’ in 1984, an award that was given by the editors of the magazine ‘Soviet Warrior’ to the player with the most hat-tricks or more in a single season. In the same season, he was the runner-up in the goal-scoring charts with 18 goals, one behind Sergey Andreyev. Hamlet had the best clubs in USSR chasing after him. He would stay loyal to his club, however, and would not play for another club until the start of 1988, when he signed for Kotayk Abovian, a football club that went out of business in 2005. After a single year with the club, he moved abroad.
That is where the second part of his career begins. In 1989, with the help of an organiser by the name of Abraham Hayrapetyan, Hamlet went to France to play for a club that was founded by the Armenian diaspora living in the south-central part of France called USJOA Valence. The club achieved its biggest achievement in 1992 by winning the Southern Group of Division 3. In the same year, USJOA and FC Valence merged to create ASOA Valence, with ASOA becoming the successors of USJOA. In Hamlet’s last two years with ASOA Valence, the team finished those seasons in the 5th and 15th places, respectively. In 1994, he moved to another club in France. His new destination was also a club with Armenian diaspora, called ASA Issy. His international career, unfortunately, began too late in his career. Hamlet was never called up to play for the USSR national football team. He could receive only 2 caps for Armenia in 1994, scoring no goals for them. A year later, Hamlet Mkhitaryan shockingly retired.
What was the reason for Hamlet’s retirement? It was because he was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 1995. As Hamlet’s days were counted, he decided to spend his last days in Yerevan with his wife, Marina, and his two children, Monica and Henrikh, the latter of whom became Armenia’s greatest player nearly two decades later. Despite the best efforts, the doctors failed to cure his disease, and Hamlet Mkhitaryan passed away on 2 May 1996 at the age of 33. His death was shocking; but nevertheless, inevitable.
Ten years later, his son Henrikh made his professional debut for Pyunik in 2006 at the age of 17, having had trials with Brazilian giants São Paulo three years earlier. Henrikh Mkhitaryan was likened to his late father due to his style of play and his stature. It was as if one were seeing the ghost of Hamlet on the pitch. Henrikh’s performances with Pyunik earned him a move to Metalurh Donetsk. He later played for Shakhtar Donetsk, Dortmund, Manchester United, Arsenal, and now, AS Roma. Hamlet’s wife, Marina, is currently the head of the national teams’ department of the Armenian Football Federation while their daughter, Monica, works at the UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland.
Hamlet Mkhitaryan was considered a talented player with many tricks under his coat. He was entertaining to his fans and fearsome to his rivals. Nonetheless, it is mind-boggling to think why he was considered ‘below the standards’ for the USSR national football team, especially in the Lobanovskyi era, and later, in the Malofeyev era – between 1982 and 1987. Also, for some reason, his international debut came two years after Armenia became members of UEFA. The fact that he passed away too early meant that he could not be involved in management, whether it be at club level or at the international level. Hamlet’s death, however, played a huge part in his son’s improvement in football. Henrikh was lucky to have Youri Djorkaeff as his second role model, an accomplished French striker of Armenian descent since the Mkhitaryans and the Djorkaeffs were close to each other during Hamlet’s time in France.