Roberto De Zerbi is no stranger to setting ambitious targets for players but the potential of winning the Ballon d’Or has, so far, been reserved for only one.

When Mykhailo Mudryk was on the verge of a move to the Premier League in December, his former manager at Shakhtar Donetsk boldly expressed that the Ukraine winger was capable of being named the greatest player in the world.

Nine months on and Mudryk is struggling to even get into the Chelsea team after his £88.5 million transfer to Stamford Bridge. Indeed, the 22-year-old has completed 90 minutes only once in that time, which came in the 2-1 home defeat by De Zerbi’s Brighton & Hove Albion in April.

This week’s international break with Ukraine will be considered an ideal opportunity for Mudryk to rediscover the form that led De Zerbi to utter those words and Chelsea to part with such significant cash. Facing England in a Euro 2024 qualifier on Saturday would, seemingly, offer Mudryk the perfect platform. Only, the same was also said back in March.

This newspaper published an article before the game about how Mudryk was yet to get going at Chelsea but that Gareth Southgate would be wary of his talents, carrying the headline: “Mykhailo Mudryk has patriotism and a point to prove against England.”

Instead, Southgate targeted Ukraine’s left, where Mudryk’s ill discipline on defensive duties was exposed and England comfortably won at Wembley. Mudryk, once again, looked lost in London.

Chelsea insiders say it is clear he has still not settled in at the west London club. They still hold hope he will fulfil that vast potential having been handed the longest contract in Premier League history when he signed a deal of eight and a half years in January.

Pochettino has prioritised quality in possession rather than pace in his tactics, with Mudryk currently having the worst dribbling statistics at the west London club

Pochettino has prioritised quality in possession rather than pace in his tactics, with Mudryk currently having the worst dribbling statistics at the west London club


Mauricio Pochettino last month warned those players on long contracts not to become complacent. “It is not that we sign a player and spend money and they are sure they are going to play,” the Chelsea head coach said. “Talented players, players that the club spends money on, they have to show every day that they deserve to play.”

Right now, to put it bluntly, the widespread view on Mudryk is that he’s fast becoming an £88.5 million flop. Another expensive Chelsea signing failing to fulfil his potential. But football is rarely a patient game and one that often forgets context. Mudryk is also a 22-year-old who has, for the first time, left his home, a place ravaged by war. His parents, who are both teachers, and many friends have remained. What toll would that take on a young person’s mind?

The instability at Chelsea, with three head coaches in six months, can’t have helped either. Fortunately for Mudryk he now has a head coach whose reputation is built on meaningful relationships. Dele Alli said his connection with Pochettino at Tottenham Hotspur was “deeper” than just manager and player, and that “he cared about me as a person before the football”.

Opportunities for Mudryk remain limited, though. He has not started a competitive game for Pochettino and has played only 67 minutes so far this season, with his latest appearance coming off the substitutes’ bench in Saturday’s defeat by Nottingham Forest. Ben Chilwell, a left back, started in Mudryk’s preferred position on the wing and Pochettino opted to call on the new signing Cole Palmer and Noni Madueke to salvage the game ahead of him.

When Mudryk was introduced, his stunning acceleration and speed were on show but only through losing the ball and racing to recover. No Chelsea player has worse dribbling statistics. Such speed may be thrilling on the eye but history suggests it is not an attribute Pochettino particularly values.

Zinchenko has backed his Ukraine team-mate to perform for Chelsea, adding that “the sky is the limit” for the 22-year-old

Zinchenko has backed his Ukraine team-mate to perform for Chelsea, adding that “the sky is the limit” for the 22-year-old


At Tottenham, players such as Dele and Christian Eriksen, known for quality in possession rather than pace, were favoured as support for the striker Harry Kane. A similar approach has been seen at Chelsea. When Christopher Nkunku, Chelsea’s £58 million summer signing, was forced to undergo a surgery that ruled him out until December, Pochettino turned to Carney Chukwuemeka to start on the left side of his front three. Mudryk was low in the pecking order.

On the final day of last season, a message tattooed across the chest of Mudryk, a deeply religious Christian, came into his mind. “Dear God,” it read. “If today I lose my hope, just remind me that your plans are better than my dreams.”

His fellow Ukrainian and friend Oleksandr Zinchenko has provided support off the field. Zinchenko had expected his compatriot to join him at Arsenal but the north London club were beaten to the deal by Chelsea. Arsenal insiders believe they had a plan for Mudryk’s progression which would have enabled him to perform far better. Zinchenko’s praise for Mudryk offers support to De Zerbi’s claim.

“I’ve never seen something like this,” he said during an interview on Rio Ferdinand’s podcast Vibe with Five. “Honestly, the sky is the limit. The quality he has is incredible.

“The thing is guys, I know it’s price tag, pressure, media. He came from a different league, from the Ukrainian league, and this Ukrainian league at the moment, unfortunately, is not even that level which was ten years ago, when all Brazilians were attracted — Fernandinho, Willian — that was a good league. But now, he came straight away to Chelsea and you want him to see [his best] straight away? Please, it takes time.”