UEFA.com — The UEFA European Under-19 Championship kicks off in Yerevan on Sunday and hosts Armenia have gone right to the top in picking the ambassador for their first final tournament on home soil – the nation’s most famous footballing son, Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
With 27 goals, Mkhitaryan is his nation’s all-time leading international goalscorer, and the midfielder has played for Shakhtar Donetsk, Borussia Dortmund, Manchester United and now Arsenal. His first appearance in a UEFA competition came at 15 in a U17 EURO qualifier against Turkey. He looked ahead to the finals and back at his memories of youth international football.
What was it like pulling on the Armenia shirt for the first time at youth level?
I felt very proud. It has always been a particular pleasure for me to play in the national team, because we would compete against different national teams and players. It was a very good experience for us at that age, as we wouldn’t play those type of matches every week in our league.
Tell us about your experience of playing in the U19s; what are players learning at this level?
You compete against stronger opponents than the ones you face in the local championship. At that level, I learned that football is quicker, with more pace and that you have to make faster decisions as you have less time to think. It also allows you to understand the exact level you are at when you play against other national teams, and what you have to improve.
Who was your favorite player at the time?
Zinédine Zidane was my favorite player. He was a Picasso on the pitch, playing incredibly with the ball, creating magic.
You are now Armenia’s record goalscorer – is there one moment in particular that you are most proud of in your international career?
I never like to praise myself. Whatever I do, I do it with pleasure. So after my playing career, I will start thinking of the things that I can be proud of. The way I created myself, what I have achieved and where I am now – are what I am proud of.
How important is it to football in Armenia to host this competition?
In Armenia, everyone loves football and I think people are very happy to host this competition, as it is a great opportunity to watch the future stars of European football.
What would your advice be to the players playing in the tournament this summer?
My advice would be to have fun and enjoy every moment, because these kinds of games and competitions could be once in a lifetime. I wish the best of luck to every player.