'The Ukrainian Neymar' - Is Chelsea's new signing Mykhailo Mudryk really worth £89m?
Shakhtar Donetsk president Rinat Akhmetov had "mixed feelings" about selling Mykhailo Mudryk. On one hand, he wanted to hold on such a talented young player "in order to win European trophies". On the other, how could he possibly turn down an £89 million ($109m) package for an unproven 22-year-old with just 65 senior appearances under his belt?
Indeed, even in a world in which the transfer market has long since gone mad, this deal has made everyone sit up and take notice.
Remember, it wasn't just Chelsea who were willing to pay £62m ($76m) up front for Mudryk, Arsenal had also agreed an identical initial fee with Shakhtar.
And yet this is a player that so few pundits and supporters have ever seen play. So, who is Mykhailo Mudryk and is he really worth such an incredible fee?
GOAL has the lowdown on the Ukrainian and his remarkably rapid rise to the top...
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Where it all began
Mudryk was born in Krasnohrad but began his footballing career in nearby Kharkiv, joining Metalist in 2010.
He was just nine at the time and suffered from insomnia. However, everything changed when his grandmother gave him a prayer card of Archangel Michael. Mudryk has been a devout Christian ever since, as underlined by several religious tattoos, the most prominent of which sits on his neck and reads 'Only Jesus'.
His faith in both God and his own ability has fuelled his football career.
He spent four years at Metalist before joining Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, where he began to establish himself as one of Ukrainian football's most exciting under-age stars. Indeed, it came as no surprise when he was snapped up by Shakhtar in 2016.
The big break
Two years after arriving at Shakhtar, Mudryk made his first senior appearance in a Ukrainian Cup match against Olimpik Donetsk, handed his professional debut at 17 by then-coach Paulo Fonseca.
However, it was clear that this was a raw talent not quite ready for the first team, and Mudryk was loaned to Arsenal Kyiv for the second half of the 2018-19 campaign.
He returned to make his first Ukrainian League appearance for Shaktar the following season, but went back out on loan in 2020, this time joining Desna Chernihiv. It was only after returning for a second time that Mudryk really began to make an impact.
Indeed, he made 19 appearances and scored two goals before the 2021-22 season was cut short because of Russia's invasion of Ukraine last March. He had played particularly well in Shakhtar's 2-1 loss to Real Madrid in the group stage of the Champions League, effectively announcing himself to the rest of Europe, and drawing a round of applause from the Santiago Bernabeu crowd in the process, after tormenting Dani Carvajal with an exhilarating exhibition of his pace and trickery.
There was even talk of a Premier League transfer during the summer, with the likes of Everton and Brentford expressing an interest in his services. However, Mudryk was already targeting a transfer to a top team.
"With all due respect, I will definitely not be moving to Brentford," he told Sportarena. "They're a mid-table Premier League side that doesn't compete in European cups. For me, the most important thing is the Champions League."
How it's been going
The reason for the sudden interest among Europe's elite was Mudryk's improvement during the first half of the current campaign, particularly in terms of his finishing. Despite the constant praise for his skillset, there had been reservations before the season began over his end product.
However, he's now added goals to his game, netting 10 times in all competitions before the break for the World Cup – and thrice in the group stage of the Champions League – as well as contributing nine assists.
The feeling was, then, at both Chelsea and Arsenal, that they couldn't afford to wait any longer to make their move, given Mudryk's value was only likely to increase between now and the end of 2022-23.
What first grabs your attention is Mudryk's incredible pace. There was no quicker player on show in the group stage of this season's Champions League. Literally. He clocked a top speed of 36.6 km/h – a figure only matched by Barcelona winger Ousmane Dembele. What's more, Mudryk believes that he can run even faster. He is confident that he can hit 40 km/h.
Mudryk is also wonderfully agile, which can be at least partially attributed to the fact that his mother only agreed to let him take up football as a child if he also did dance lessons.
Then there's the fact that he often looks as comfortable striking the ball with his left foot as he does his right.
It is this combination of pace, nimbleness and two-footedness which makes him a nightmare for defenders in one-v-one situations, as he is capable of racing away in either direction.
Room for improvement
The aforementioned Fonseca never had any doubt about Mudryk's talent. He did, however, have some doubts over his temperament.
"He still has a lot to learn," he said after a friendly against Qarabag in 2019. "He could have scored even more than one goal, and he must understand how he can improve.
"He still doesn’t know everything If he wants to become a great player, so he has to change his attitude a bit on the pitch."
A red card earlier this season would certainly appear to support the Portuguese coach's point, but Mudryk is, at least, renowned for his work ethic.
He is always willing to put in extra hours, both on the training field and in the gym, as illustrated by his already impressive mix of technique and physique.
Mudryk has long been known as 'The Ukrainian Neymar', not that he likes the moniker that much. He prefers 'The Ukrainian Modric' on the grounds that "it sounds better".
But let's face it, as a swift and almost balletic left winger who loves to cut inside onto his favoured right foot, Mudryk is clearly far more comparable to the Paris Saint-Germain superstar.
He's still a long way to go to reach Neymar's level, of course, but those that have worked closely with him have no doubts about his world-class potential.
Shakhtar sporting director Darijo Srna says Mudryk is the best winger in the world after Kylian Mbappe and Vinicius Junior, while former manager, and current Brighton boss, Roberto De Zerbi says that "Mykhail has the potential to win the Ballon d'Or".
It's a dream of his too, which only serves to underline the size of Mudryk's self-belief and ambition.
"No one expected me to win the Shakhtar Player of the Year award in 2021," he said after collecting the prize for a second time earlier this month, "and no one expects me to get the Ballon d'Or as well, but it might happen one day."
What comes next?
The Ballon d'Or can be put on the backburner for the time being. For now, Mudryk's only focus will be on vindicating Chelsea's colossal investment in his services, and an impressive debut at Liverpool on Saturday would go a long way in that regard.
The fee may well prove a hindrance. It's a massive amount of money for such an inexperienced player. But Mudryk has certainly never lacked faith.
He has the utmost belief in his ability and one imagines that he'll be quite looking forward to lining out at Anfield.
It could prove a game to remember for 'The Ukrainian Neymar'. And maybe one to forget for Trent Alexander-Arnold...