Willian completing a medical for Spurs but switching to Chelsea. Robinho confirming to news sources he would play for Chelsea just a day after holding a conference to announce his signing for City.
Former Spurs defender Sol Campbell crossing North London sides to play for Arsenal despite getting a myriad of offers from other Champions League clubs. And now, Mykhaylo Mudryk spurning Arsenal for Chelsea.
Chelsea’s hijacking of what seemed to be a done deal between the former Shakhtar attacker and their London rivals has already gone down as legendary.
But how exactly did Chelsea snag yet another big transfer? How did Arsenal somehow mess up what seemed to be a verbally-agreed transfer? And why did Mudryk decide to switch from the Emirates to Stamford Bridge?
Mudryk bursts onto the scene
Before he was inking $100,000-per-week contracts at Chelsea in 2023, he was rapidly rising through the Shakhtar Donetsk youth system just two years prior. Mudryk played several games in the UEFA Youth League.
In 12 total Youth League matches, Mudryk did not score at all, but had two assists and earned the nickname of the “Ukrainian Neymar” from scouts worldwide.
Not long after, Mudryk was making several appearances for the Shakhtar senior team. He burst out in to the scene in 2021-22 season cut short by the Russian invasion, where his explosive pace, dribbling, and playmaking helped him get a whopping six assists in 14 games. Roberto de Zerbi, then-manager for Shakhtar, was extremely optimistic about Mudryk’s chances to become an elite talent.
“Mykhaylo Mudryk is one of the best young footballers. If I don’t bring him to a high level, I will regard it as a personal defeat,” the Brighton boss said in an interview with Espreso.
“It was my breakthrough year, it was also challenging and full of emotions. Even though it’s a breakthrough year, I would like to make the next year even more successful,” he confided in a club interview.
He also played a minor role in Shakhtar’s European conquest, starting one match and transforming into a meaningful super sub. The controversy surrounding Shakhtar’s roster deconstruction overshadowed Mudryk’s great season.
Mudryk introduced himself to the wider world with a magnificent 2022 season. Not only did he score seven goals and assist six times in just twelve league games, but he dominated a Champions League group that included Celtic, Leipzig, and Real Madrid. He had three goals along with two assists, most of which came in a Man of the Match performance against Leipzig where he scored and had two assists.
Shakhtar still has a lot to play for going into 2023. They are second in Ukraine, trailing Dnipro-1 by five points with a game in hand. They will face Rennes in February in the Europa League round of 32. But despite their competitiveness, Mudryk was eager to leave Donetsk. Shakhtar knew that losing Mudryk would be a huge blow, but they entered negotiations with a number of European clubs regardless.
After the club season paused for the winter World Cup, Mudryk, Arsenal, and Shakhtar were already all knee-deep in advanced negotiations.
Interest in Mudryk intensifies
Mudryk has been linked to a transfer away from Ukraine. Shakhtar fielded offers from Brentford as early as 2021, and he nearly joined Leverkusen and Everton in summer 2022.
He turned down offers from Milan and Juve for the chance to play for Leverkusen. Although he had pushed for a move to Leverkusen, reportedly completed a medical, and verbally agreed to join Leverkusen, Shakhtar’s confusing negotiation tactics and inflating transfer prices prevented the deal from going through.
Arsenal were always admirers of the Ukrainian right-winger, and their interest stretches back to summer 2022. Interest heated up with his impressive Champions League performances, with Newcastle United, Sevilla, and Leverkusen all inquiring about Mudryk’s services. Arsenal decided that their need for a wide forward deserved the steep $65 million price tag, so they continued to negotiate going into the club season.
Transfer rumors heated up with Nice and Brentford joining the race for Mudryk. Thanks to the growth in interest and his continued impressive form, Shakhtar’s asking price skyrocketed up to over $100 million.
“Mudryk is better than all the Brazilians we have had so far. I’ve been playing football all my life and I would dare to say that he is the best player in Europe in his position behind Mbappe, Neymar and Vinicius,” Shakhtar director of football Darjo Srna reasoned.
Arsenal started to truly separate themselves from the pack during the World Cup. Their financial might, along with Mudryk’s enthusiastic interest for the Gunners, singled them out as the leaders for the transfer.
“I am 100 per cent sure that they are unlikely to buy a player from the championship of Ukraine for 100 million [euros]. I will not hide that I was very upset. The amount of 100 million [euros] puts a barrier for my transition to the top championship, which I so dreamed of. I can’t say that my dream was killed, but wounded – that’s for sure,” Mudryk raged in an interview with Sport Arena.
Arsenal began to steadily progress with negotiations. Mudryk could barely contain his excitement: “I follow Arsenal closely; they’re a very dynamic side.” A mammoth contract, plus the guarantee of playing time, helped Arsenal seal personal terms with Shakhtar. All that was left was beating Shakhtar’s resistance.
December saw Shakhtar pull a myriad of confusing moves to dissaude Arsenal from buying Mudryk. One included assistant sporting director Carlo Nicolini’s bizarre comparison between Antony, Jack Grealish, and Mudryk. Nicolini told the Mirror that because Mudryk is better than Antony and Grealish, Mudryk should cost more than Antony and Grealish. Mudryk himself took to Twitter to air out his frustration making multiple Instagram posts praising Arsenal and even using the hashtag #FreeMudryk.
Arsenal began testing the waters with a $70 million bid, which was flatly rejected by the Shakhtar staff. After signs of weakness shown by Arsenal’s transfer crew, Chelsea decided that Arsenal’s hesitation could be their key to victory.
After Chelsea refused to pay $130 million to activate Fernandez’s release clause, Chelsea decided they needed a forward, what with the injury crisis, sputtering offense and what not. In fact, they decided to enter the race for Mudryk, aware of the fact that it could push the price as high as 100 million dollars.
Chelsea joining the race for Mudryk was especially concering, considering how competition will drive up prices and how Shakhtar already expected to be paid upwards of the eight-digits-mark. Arsenal were still in the driver’s seat going into the New Year. Mudryk was still eager about playing for the league leaders, Arsenal could shell out the money if they wanted, and the Gunners had multiple back-ups in Yeremy Pino and Moussa Diaby.
Before anyone knew it, both sides rapidly negotiated out terms for a potential transfer. Shakhtar executive Sergei Palkin traveled to England to meet Chelsea representatives, but Mudryk was liking and posting several Arsenal-related news and memes.
By now, Mudryk was just a pawn in each club’s plans. Although Mudryk repeatedly affirmed his desire to join Arsenal, he could not force a transfer to Arsenal. His contract with Shakhtar would expire in 2026, and his release clause is reportedly somewhere around $165 and $175 million dollars.
If Shakhtar rejected one bid and accepted another, Mudryk would either have to accept the bid or stay with the club; he had no influence over the transfer aside from his intense Arsenal interest.
Chelsea temporarily pulled out of talks to sign Fernandez, and Arsenal tabled an improved(but still way off Shakhtar’s requirements) $75 million bid. It was neck-and-neck, and although Arsenal led Chelsea thanks to Mudryk’s profound interest in the team, the Blues rapidly closed the gap.
And then, the moment of relief and sorrow. It seemed that Arsenal would win the race for Mudryk. News outlets everywehere proclaimed that Arsenal was confident of signing Mudryk, and transfer insiders pointed at Chelsea’s talks with PSV’s Noni Madueke as Chelsea surrendering the war for Mudryk.
Arsenal gradually loosened Shakhtar’s grip on Chelsea, nagging Shakhtar almost every day. On January 14, Chelsea hoped to reach a compromise with Shakhtar on a $103 million dollar deal(a guaranteed $70 million plus $25 million in add-ons).
But suddenly, Chelsea was in Poland, negotiating with the Shakhtar board for a $108 million bid to beat out the bid Arsenal proposed just hours earlier. The mission; to steal Mudryk away and keep costs semi-reasonable, was complete. Shakhtar prematurely hinted at a Mudryk transfer when they posted a compilation of his highlights, even using the #FreeMudryk hashtag Arsenal fans used to ridicule Shakhtar.
Mudryk promptly flew out to Stamford Bridge to complete the contract, do a PR shoot, and arrive in time for Chelsea’s 1-0 win over Palace that doubled as a Chelsea unveiling.
Arsenal fans will weep with the fact that they were hours away(and only six million away as well) from signing their top target Mudryk. Despite the obvious agony from barely missing out on what seems to be a generational talent, Arteta told press that he was fine with his squad after his side took home a 2-0 win in the North London Derby.
I’m very proud of have the players that we have. We always want to improve the squad, the club is the first one that is doing everything we can to improve the players but we have to have some discipline.Mikel Arteta talks to Sky Sports about missing out on Mudryk and financial restrictions.
Graham Potter, wary about Chelsea’s big spending and the club’s injury woes, was slightly optimistic about signing Mudryk. His comments came directly after the Blues snapped their four-game winless streak at Palace.
He’s a young player with a big future. He’s exciting one v one, direct, attacks the backline, can go in in wide areas but also affects the goal. I think our supporters will really like him.
But I think we’ve got to be not necessarily careful, but I think you’ve just got to understand that we’ve got about 10 players unavailable. Obviously you can’t just sign players to replace those because in the end, you have a squad of 30. You have to do the right thing and the window is complicated in January.Graham Potter talks about Mudryk’s potential and why signing players might not be the solution to Chelsea’s injury crisis.
Shakhtar will be very disappointed to lose Mudryk in the transfer window, especially as they enter a pivotal stretch of their season. But they will not be too saddened; Mudryk’s transfer is the most valuable in club history, and you could make a good argument that Mudryk is worth somewhere around 50 million to 60 million dollars. Nonetheless, the wealthiest man in Ukraine and Shakhtar president Rinat Akhemtov, came off fairly neutral in his farewell to Mudryk.
I have mixed feelings: in order to win European trophies, I should invite such footballers as Mudryk to our club, to our Ukrainian league and not send them to the best championships and the best clubs in the world.
However, I am sure that Mykhailo will win respect, sympathy and love of all connoisseurs of world football with his speed, his technique, his impressive and beautiful play.Rinat Akhemtov discusses Mudryk’s departure.
Photo credit: IMAGO / Focus Images
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