Mykhaylo Mudryk will get the stage to live up to those Mbappe comparisons
Wesley Fofana perhaps offered England the best warning of why Mykhaylo Mudryk cannot be taken lightly at Wembley on Sunday evening.
When Chelsea defender Fofana told club media that Mudryk was the fastest player he had ever faced in training, he was quickly pulled up by team-mate Benoit Badiashile, who said: “Mbappe?” Fofana replied: “No chance. It’s finished.”
Chelsea supporters are yet to see why Mudryk has earned comparisons to Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, but those inside Stamford Bridge, including England pair Reece James and Ben Chilwell, believe it is only a matter of time. Mudryk narrowly avoided becoming Chelsea’s “007” – zero goals and zero assists in seven appearances – by setting up Mateo Kovacic to score against Leicester City. The 22-year-old had earlier thought he had opened his account for the club, only to see his goal disallowed.
The way in which Mudryk celebrated Didier Drogba-style in front of the away fans before being pulled back slightly red-faced revealed just how desperate the Ukrainian is to make an impact in English football. And where better to prove a point to those doubting his £88million credentials, following his January move from Shakhtar Donetsk, than a sold-out Wembley against an England side for whom both James and Chilwell may start?
The nature of Mudryk’s transfer to Stamford Bridge, which amounted to a 24-hour hijack operation from under the noses of Arsenal by co-controlling owner Behdad Eghbali and co-sporting director Paul Winstanley, meant he was always going to arrive with pressure on him. Chelsea, however harmlessly, did not help relieve that pressure by changing the biography name on the club’s Instagram account to the personal Instagram account handle of Mudryk and posting excited teasers of his arrival ahead of the official announcement.
There have been claims that Mudryk’s entourage were allowed into the Anfield dressing room ahead of his debut as a substitute, in which he sped past a couple of challenges in the penalty area before hitting the side netting with a shot. That remains the closest thing Chelsea fans have seen of Mudryk’s Mbappe-like pace, as his performances since have been underwhelming and increasingly fleeting. Having been substituted at half-time against Fulham in early February, he could not hide his frustration, largely aimed at Marc Cucurella, in the draw at West Ham United.
Since the Champions League first-leg defeat by Borussia Dortmund, Mudryk has started only one game, that victory over Leicester, as head coach Graham Potter has switched to a 3-4-2-1 formation that does not accommodate wingers. While supporters might have hoped for more, Chelsea’s owners and staff are relaxed about Mudryk’s slow start, recognising that he joined the club in January having not played for two months and short of match fitness.
Mudryk has worked hard to try to bridge that gap by training on days off. Those who watch training believe he is getting sharper each week, but he must still adapt to the Premier League and the challenge of now competing for a place in a large, talented squad. Shy and quiet with club staff away from his team-mates, Mudryk’s English is described as being a work in progress but, like his fitness, he is working hard on it.
Having failed to make an appearance off the substitutes’ bench in the draw with Everton, the international break may have come at just the right time for Mudryk.
Arsenal supporters may have noticed him sticking close to Oleksandr Zinchenko in training with Ukraine over the past week, but that will not worry Chelsea, who are confident Mudryk is happy at his new club and will prove a big success, given time.
Chelsea’s faith is shared by former Shakhtar manager Roberto De Zerbi, now doing such an excellent job at Brighton, who claimed that Mudryk could even rise to become the best player in the world. Ahead of his move to Chelsea, De Zerbi said: “I know the value of Mudryk, he has the potential to win the Ballon d’Or.”
Mudryk is yet to score his first goal for Ukraine in eight international appearances, but will arrive at Wembley, along with Zinchenko, as one of the stars of the team. Caretaker manager Ruslan Rotan said: “Mykhaylo is a great talent and fulfilling his potential is right ahead of him. In a couple of months’ time he will play a key role in the Premier League. He’s one of the diamonds in our team and we cherish him.”
Chelsea still have some more polishing of their diamond to do, but Mudryk has an opportunity to show English football what he is all about at Wembley.