With one piece of scintillating close control and a shot into the side-netting, Mykhailo Mudryk introduced himself. The Ukrainian playmaker joined Chelsea from Shakhtar Donetsk in an £89m deal last week, and all eyes were on him at Anfield as the Blues played out a 0-0 draw with Liverpool. The game was a cagey affair which only served to explain why both clubs are currently so far off the pace set at the top of the Premier League table.
Mudryk was never likely to start. Chelsea boss Graham Potter says the club will have to “manage his minutes” because he has arrived in the midst of his side’s winter break. He is the centrepiece of what has been an incredibly busy and expensive January window for the Blues, but he is also the most pertinent example of a phenomenon that has only become more common as the price of deals grows exponentially. That is, players moving based on what can be called ‘club value’ rather than his actual ‘market value’. Defining and understanding the difference puts deals in a completely new light.
Most judge a transfer on market value, which is more often than not a fair representation of a player’s worth based on form, age, potential and, crucially, existing achievements. But with the need to sign the ‘next big thing’ growing even greater these days, minus the latter, it is easy for those same factors to distort a deal.
Marketing a player has always been crucial, but never more so than now, and especially with a player like Mudryk. His game is exciting, based on beating players, dribbling and creating. Therefore, creating hype around him is easy; clips are shared on social media, YouTube highlight reels are created and hyperbole is never too far behind. With that, the view of a player’s true quality becomes distorted; comparisons are made, paths formed, all before anything has really been proven.
With a handful of games at an elite level for Shakhtar in the Champions League this season to his name, there is no way that Mudryk could possibly justify such a hefty price tag. Even in today’s market, when the most expensive deals are north of £100m without much fanfare, this transfer has shocked a lot of people.
Shakhtar watched this unfold. The 22-year-old was their prized asset and talisman; but selling them off in the past has been part of their business model. It was never about keeping Mudryk, but adding to his value. Arsenal’s interest will only have helped matters, too, especially as they appeared to be Mudryk’s preferred destination. Negotiating a price always appeared harder with the Gunners than it did Chelsea, but the Blues pulled it off, according to the Ukrainian club, because the structure of their deal was better. Whatever that structure was, it confirmed that Mudryk’s sale had been sanctioned on their terms.
Selling clubs have more power now there is more money in the game; they can hold their nerve and get the price they want. But it is always worth remembering how important a player can be to a club, and that will often dictate how expensive he is. Just as in Mudryk’s case, if they are a vital component to the team, leading in terms of key passes, goals and assists, they are not easily replaced and certainly not at the price the market says they are worth. That is why the hype plays such an important role; if nobody was talking about Mudryk, the £89m fee wouldn’t have ever been mooted, let alone actually paid.
The hype also increases desperation for the buying club, and Chelsea are a great example of that. There are others, too; Manchester City paid £100m for Jack Grealish because Aston Villa had him sign a new contract with that release clause. Hype was crucial there; he’d come off the back of Euro 2020 with England as the most popular player in a team that reached the final. Fans had been demanding he play for his ability to change games; City paid up, despite there being little more than a couple of excellent Premier League seasons and an FA Cup final in his younger days on his CV.
Then there’s Andy Carroll’s move from Newcastle to Liverpool in January 2011. The striker, 21 at the time, had scored nine Premier League goals in the Magpies’ first season back in the top flight. His performances led to a lot of attention and an England debut; he signed a new contract at St James’ Park, but on transfer deadline day, Liverpool came calling. Money was burning a hole in their pocket from their earlier £50m sale of Fernando Torres to Chelsea. But with it being so late on in the window and no replacement likely, the Magpies refused to sell for less than £35m. The Reds paid it, because that was what he was worth to Newcastle.
Most transfer record lists are filled with players being sold based on promise and potential and that tend looks set to only continue. Mudryk may be the real deal, having shown glimpses at the weekend, but that transfer, like many others, was proof that club value is much more important than market value.