Mykhailo Mudryk sensed his moment and took it this season. Although Shakhtar Donetsk dropped down to the Europa League in the new year, his stardust has been left on Europe’s biggest stage already.
He is their talisman and their playmaker, the man who makes them tick, leading the quest for a glimmer of joy in what is a terrible time for all Ukrainians. His future is bright and he will almost certainly be back in the Champions League one day soon.
There is already growing interest in his signature, and in truth that began before the season started. Arsenal and Newcastle were linked with him in the summer, but Shakhtar, who have been through obvious hardship which saw them lose key players and their coach, Roberto de Zerbi, now at Brighton, showed resolve to keep him.
That resolve will only have strengthened after his performances this season, in particular against Celtic. He scored in Shakhtar’s ‘home’ clash with the Scottish side, played in Poland due to the war, and really caught attention with a stunning breakaway goal in Glasgow this week. More eyes will be on him, it will be harder to keep him, but the price will have only gone up.
In fact, there are suggestions that it could be as big as £85m, and the club are already thinking about a contingency plan for his sale, according to director Carlo Nicolini.
Italy seems a no-go, and with their wealth, English teams are heavy favourites, but interest is certainly not lacking.
“The headlights are on him, but I say that the Italians always come later,” Nicolini told Calciomercato. “Now it is easy to observe him, but it was possible to do it before. The Italians bring low proposals, we don’t even sit down to negotiate.
“There are many English candidates, there is the Spanish on duty, the French on duty, but now it takes the right amount to take him away. Together with [Kylian] Mbappe, [Rafael] Leao and Vinicius [Junior], Mudryk is the strongest player in that position.”
It is easy to forget that Mudryk is only 21, such is his ability to impact games at the top level. His skillset is obvious; he is the perfect player for the modern age, quick with brilliant control, an excellent dribbler. In short, he is the ideal player for a highlights compilation, which is partly why he developed a following before he had shown his quality at the highest level.
Mudryk has long been seen as a player to watch, and the challenge for him was to prove he was more than someone who could look good on YouTube. That is what he has done; his composure on the ball, his decision making and his leadership by example at such a young age suggest he is not far from outgrowing his surroundings, if he hasn’t already done so.
Only six players have more successful dribbles in this season’s Champions League than Mudryk, and they include Vinicius Junior, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, backing up Nicolini’s claims about his status. He has two assists, level with Kevin de Bruyne and Toni Kroos. The fact he is matching some of the biggest names in Europe in terms of numbers while playing in a much less successful team speaks volumes for his quality. This has been a breakout year, but he must make the most of that.
At 5 ft 8 there are suggestions that he is too diminutive to thrive in a more physical league like the Premier League, but such a suggestion is often baseless and easily proven wrong. English football is not as fast or physical as it once was, and there are plenty of examples of similar players to Mudryk thriving. He can as an inverted winger or a playmaker from the central areas, picking up spaces between the lines. He is the type of player every club has and needs to succeed.
Unfortunately for Shakhtar, this story is already written. Provided Mudryk continues in this vein of form, a move is inevitable, but the money he could generate will be a huge positive. Ukraine are not going to the World Cup, giving the player time to rest and recuperate ahead of the second half of the season, or potentially prepare for a new challenge in January. This is certainly a story to watch.