At the start of last season, he was unknown outside Ukraine, with a transfer value of less than £1 million. Now he is one of the most sought-after young players in Europe. After an explosive rise, Mykhailo Mudryk seems destined for big things.
The 22-year-old, who showcased his exciting speed and one-on-one ability in the Champions League group stage earlier this season, has been described by Shakhtar Donetsk director of football Darijo Srna as “the best player in Europe in his position” behind Kylian Mbappe and Vinicius Junior.
That statement may be a bit of an exaggeration, but Srna isn’t the only one who holds Mudryk in high esteem.
His list of suitors is long, but Chelsea have pipped Arsenal to sign him on an eight-and-a-half-year deal.
Shakhtar have been adamant about securing the player’s huge valuation – “if someone wants to buy Mudryk, they have to spend a lot of money and respect our club,” Srna recently added – but is the hype justified?
A change of attitude under De Zerbi
Mudryk has long been regarded as a player with huge potential in Ukraine, where he started out at Metalist Kharkiv’s Academy before moving to Dnipro and then Shakhtar, but it took longer than many expected for his success to begin.
Former Shakhtar manager Paulo Fonseca saw his potential during his time in charge and brought him into the first team, handing him his senior debut as a 17-year-old in 2018.
For all Mudryk’s talent, his attitude caused suspicion.
“Sometimes he didn’t hear what the coach said to him,” reflected Shakhtar captain Taras Stepanenko recently. Fonseca, meanwhile, expressed his own concerns after winning a friendly against Azerbaijan’s Qarabag in January 2019.
“Mykhailo scored today, but he still has a lot to learn,” he said. “I’m definitely convinced of his talent, but most of all, he needs to realize that he still has a lot of ways to improve … he needs to change his attitude a little bit on the court.”
Mudryk was sent on loan to Arsenal Kyiv of the Ukrainian Premier League only a few weeks later. Another loan spell, this time at Desna Chernihiv, would follow and Shakhtar would be hoping that higher exposure would help him mature.
But that was only after Roberto De Zerbi, now of Brighton, was appointed in the summer of 2021, when Mudryk was valued at less than £1m. Transfermarkt, that his fortunes – and indeed his attitude – began to change back at his parent club.
“Everyone knows Mudryk is an incredible talent, but a lot of coaches can’t connect with him,” Srna explained, before adding that one of De Zerbi’s first tasks at Shakhtar was to pick up the phone for the on-loan youngster. .
“He told him: ‘You will become a player with me, or you will not become a footballer,'” Srna added of that call from De Zerbi. “From that day on, Mudryk changed things completely.”
De Zerbi made Mudryk a personal project.
“I have to not only win the league and the Cup and play well in the Champions League, but also train the young players,” he said. “Mudryk is one of the best young footballers in Europe. If I don’t raise him to a high level, I will consider it a personal loss.”
Mudryk was one of several Shakhtar academy products thrown into the squad by De Zerbi and he rewarded his faith emphatically. The winger became a regular starter before the pandemic disrupted the 2021/22 campaign and later broke into Andriy Shevchenko’s national team.
The Champions League debacle is turning heads
Doubts about Mudryk’s attitude quickly disappeared and soon his talent came to the fore.
Indeed, since his breakthrough at the start of last season, he has scored nine goals and provided 13 assists in 23 Ukrainian Premier League games – despite Russia’s invasion of the country and upheaval caused by the pandemic.
The numbers are impressive, but it is on the European stage that Mudryk has really turned heads.
He was primarily used as a substitute in Shakhtar’s group stage campaign last season, but he certainly made his mark in his first start. His eye-catching display in the 2-1 loss to Real Madrid earned him a standing ovation from the home fans. Bernabeu when he was substituted in the second half.
It was a significant moment in Mudryk’s rise to prominence, and this season he has continued to grow, starting all six of Shakhtar’s group games and scoring three goals and providing two assists, a total of only seven players have improved so far.
Celtic do not remember their meetings fondly.
In the first of those, played in Warsaw in September, Mudryk equalized for Shakhtar with a powerful, angled finish, latching on to Heorhii Sudakov’s through ball with a well-timed and explosive move behind Celtic right-back Josip Juranovic. .
Then, at Celtic Park a month later, he made another decisive contribution, scoring another equaliser, this time with a superb individual effort from outside the box following a counter-attack, as Ange Postecoglou’s side crashed out of the competition.
Mudryk was even better in the 4-1 win against RB Leipzig that came before those two games. He opened Shakhtar’s opener after dropping in from the left and missing his marker with a series of steps, before completing a quick counter-attack himself. before producing another assist with a low cross to striker Lassina Traore.
Mudryk’s main strengths were evident in those games – his pace and power when cutting in from the left to use his stronger right foot; his speed in transition; his clinical finishing ability – and his ability to do it on the Champions League stage only added to his appeal to a growing list of suitors, which also includes Arsenal.
Chelsea’s interest explained
Chelsea’s lack of firepower has already secured a loan deal for Atletico Madrid’s Joao Felix, who was sent off on his debut against Fulham on Thursday, but Mudryk has been the subject of rumors since the start of the window.
The Blues are desperate to improve their attacking output, having scored just 21 goals in 18 Premier League games this season.
Part of Mudryk’s appeal is his ability to play on either wing. He usually prefers to operate as a reverse winger on the left side, but he is also happy on the right.
“I’m more comfortable playing on a line where I can show all my potential against one,” he said when asked about his preferred position in an interview. Times in September.
“I have more space to move forward and I can create a lot more chances when I play on the line. There are more people in the middle. But you know, the center suits me too.
“My inspiration is Cristiano Ronaldo because what you can do if you work hard and believe in yourself. I like how Cristiano plays. That’s what I see myself as – a winger.”
That’s not to say he wouldn’t one day be comfortable playing centrally as well – “I need more time to change my position from 11 or 7 to 9, but in time it’s possible,” he added. Times – but he is above all the player who carries the most threat from the wings.
What happens next remains to be seen, but it’s looking increasingly likely that Mudryk, despite being a little-known figure outside of Ukraine just a year ago, has an intriguingly bright future ahead of him.