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How Chelsea beat Arsenal to the signing of Mykhailo Mudryk

Chelsea completed the signing of Shakhtar Donetsk winger Mykhailo Mudryk for an initial €70 million, plus €30m in add-ons, at the weekend, but the Blues were never favourites to land the 22-year-old Ukraine international until the final hours.

Arsenal had led the way in negotiations, while Mudryk himself seemed to suggest that moving to the Emirates was his preferred choice. So what happened? How did Chelsea manage to persuade one of Europe’s top young prospects to join them?

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Arsenal make the early running

Arsenal were in talks with Mudryk for several weeks before Chelsea stepped up their interest. Sources told ESPN from the outset that the Gunners were unwilling to meet Shakhtar’s €100m valuation in the structure they initially demanded: the vast majority of the transfer fee up front and with readily attainable add-ons relating to player and team performance.

Although the clubs were in regular dialogue, suggesting areas of compromise throughout, Arsenal made three distinct offers. The first came in late December totalling around €60m and, before that offer had been made, the Gunners had been given positive vibes from the player’s camp that he was open to moving to Emirates Stadium. Indeed, Shakhtar chief executive Sergei Palkin claimed in an interview with The Athletic that manager Mikel Arteta, technical director Edu and Arsenal’s Ukrainian defender Oleksandr Zinchenko called Mudryk “almost every day, every two days, every three days.”

Shakhtar swiftly rejected Arsenal’s opening bid but the Gunners were confident they could negotiate a lower fee than the initial €100m asking price — based partly on the cost of Antony’s €95m move from Ajax to Manchester United last summer — because the player’s desire to leave was growing. Sources have told ESPN that Mudryk was singularly focused on a move to the Emirates, and told his agents and Shakhtar as such.

Sources added that Mudryk’s camp received multiple assurances from Arsenal that they would come to an agreement over a fee. That in part led Mudryk to post several updates on social media hinting how keen he was on a move, including instances of him watching Arsenal’s matches and, on New Year’s Eve as Brighton played Arsenal, describing Roberto De Zerbi (his former boss at Shakhtar) and Arteta as “two top coaches.”

Sources suggest Mudryk received some advice warning him against doing this in case something went wrong, but the player wanted to leave and Arsenal were the only club at this point making any concerted attempt to agree a deal with Shakhtar. The second offer was improved to around €70m, but Shakhtar rejected it once again.

At the beginning of January, Chelsea re-established contact with Shakhtar and asked to be kept informed of any developments without formalising an offer of their own. The Gunners felt there was a positive momentum in negotiations, and a third offer — which comprised a fixed fee of around €70m with add-ons to be discussed — was made on Jan. 13 and met by Shakhtar with a willingness to discuss the finer points, signalling a step forward in talks.

Chelsea step in

Arsenal’s third offer came a day after Chelsea’s 2-1 defeat to Fulham, a result which one source said sharpened the desire to sign Mudryk at Stamford Bridge. That day, ESPN reported that the Blues were still willing to pursue a deal for Mudryk but had previously focused on deals elsewhere, specifically the loan signing of Joao Felix from Atletico Madrid.

Felix had been offered to Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea after a deterioration in his relationship with Diego Simeone but the LaLiga club were holding out for a loan fee of around €20m. No team were interested at that money and Chelsea were weighing up their options when Atletico let it be known that the price could drop. The Blues pounced, agreeing to pay €11m in a loan fee plus the player’s wages — a package the two other English clubs felt was excessive but, from Chelsea’s perspective, a cheaper deal than originally proposed.

The Felix example is instructive in what happened with Mudryk. Shakhtar were still unwilling to budge from their desire to get €100m in total, but Arsenal had negotiated to a point where the €70m fixed fee was acceptable in principle.

Sources have told ESPN that Felix’s debut encouraged Chelsea to move in two distinct senses. First, the initial positive impact Felix made at Fulham showed the benefit of revitalising the forward line; secondly, his red card — and subsequent three-match ban — left them short at a pivotal point in the season. This is not to say Chelsea entered into a total €100m deal for Mudryk because Felix was banned for three games, but more because the defeat cost them more valuable ground in the top-four race and their mounting injury crisis deepened further still, tipping the balance in favour of signing a new player.

Sealing the deal

Sources told ESPN on Jan. 14 that a Chelsea delegation involving Behdad Eghbali, representing co-owners Clearlake Capital, and director of global talent and transfers Paul Winstanley flew to Antalya in Turkey (where the Ukrainian side had been conducting a summer training camp) for face-to-face talks with Shakhtar representatives.

Chelsea are said to have quickly agreed to the €70m initial fee and were more accommodating in relation to the add-ons Arsenal were still negotiating, most of which related to the team’s Premier League and Champions League performance. Shakhtar’s Palkin later confirmed there was no clause relating to Mudryk winning the Ballon d’Or, while club president Rinat Akhmetov announced a friendly with Chelsea would be played in Donetsk and that €23m ($25m) of the transfer fee would be donated to Ukraine’s war effort after the invasion by Russia.

Everything was agreed in six hours, according to sources. For a transfer of this calibre, of this amount of money, the speed at which negotiations were concluded is unprecedented.

As one source put it: “The thing with Chelsea is they move very quickly, like with Felix. One week they didn’t think it was worth it. Then things take a turn and the next minute you know, it is done.”

Once Chelsea had the agreement in principle, a charm offensive began. The club’s social media accounts started requesting positive messages of support for Mudryk, mindful he had been publicly flirting with a move to their London rivals for weeks beforehand. And time was of the essence. A medical took place on Sunday morning and, somewhat unusually, Mudryk was unveiled at Stamford Bridge during half-time of Sunday’s 1-0 win over Crystal Palace.

Arsenal could have tried to match Chelsea’s overall package at the 11th hour but decided against doing so, believing they had stretched themselves already in negotiations and would not sign Mudryk at any cost.

In the end, Mudryk signed an 8½-year contract (reportedly 7½ years with the option of a further year) at Stamford Bridge, which Arsenal were unwilling to offer anything near. The length of the deal is partly explainable by Financial Fair Play regulations (they can spread out the cost of the transfer over a longer period) but it also represents a remarkable commitment on both sides.

Mudryk is a Chelsea player and Arsenal are now scrambling to find another solution in January as they look to cement their Premier League title challenge in the coming months.