The dark side to Chelsea’s new strategy of buying young and amortising the fees over vast contracts. While many are willing to talk about the financial implications and the changing of the playing field these transfers have wrought, few are talking about the human side of Chelsea’s exorbitant spending. Not the yacht-seated narcissists doing the deals, but the players moving for these sums.
Take Mykhailo Mudryk for example. The winger is currently preparing to take on England with his Ukraine national side. The fixture must come as welcome respite from his club struggles. Jadon Sancho made headlines this week when railing against the “scapegoat” treatment he feels he has received at Manchester United. Mudryk could make the same argument, given that the 22-year-old appears to have become a magnet for criticism since signing in January.
First things first, this piece will not stand to argue that Mudryk has played superbly in a Chelsea shirt. It is clear that he is yet to consistently find the form expected at a club that lifted the Champions League as recently as two years ago. But neither has he been afforded the settling in period that was once a given, particularly for players with less than 100 games of senior football under their belt.
As is the case for so many players these days, Mudryk’s fee has come to define his tenure at Chelsea. Reported as an initial £62 million with add-ons taking the outlay to a possible £88.5 million has been thrown back in the face of a player struggling to make his mark. While Mudryk himself did not set the fee of course, it is still a yardstick against which he is frequently judged.
The recent Dele revelations demonstrated the danger of viewing footballers as something apart from human beings. While to those watching at home or in the stands these are almost costumed characters to rival Batman or Superman, in actuality they are flesh and blood not celluloid or comic newsprint. Fans online often forget that, bemoaning a player’s worth in the same way they’d complain at hating the ending of a television show or playing a bug-riddled video game.
It is not too much to ask an expensive footballer to play well. But it is too much to berate him for not doing so without giving due consideration to his circumstances. Mudryk is 22, didn’t speak English upon moving to Chelsea and had not played football for two months upon joining the club. This was due to the Ukrainian league, where he played for Shakhtar Donetsk, being suspended due to the country’s invasion by Russia. Arch-cynics will call these excuses. But they are simply the realities that Mudryk was living with at the time.
Mudryk is yet to score a Premier League goal for Chelsea and has registered just two assists in 18 appearances. But these are still early days in his tenure. In that time he has seen four men come and go from the Chelsea dugout. Mudryk has also seen many of his teammates, more experienced and settled players at that, grossly underperform as the team finished 12th in the table last term. If Mudryk was misfiring in a thriving Chelsea side, that is one thing. But the club at present is a mess.