Back in the summer of 2020, Bogdan Andriyuk reported in the Ukrainian news outlet Tribuna that Everton were showing interest in the young Ukrainian left back Vitaliy Mykolenko as an add-on to an article about SS Napoli pursuing him.
Having just turned 21 at the time, the Cherkasy native had been a regular in the Dynamo Kyiv first time for two years and had already nailed down a slot in the national team.
The €12–15m fee which was reported at the time put off the Italians and it was assumed that the English interest was only slight at best.
Fast-forward 18 months and we stand on the brink of an amazing deal, with Everton willing to pay over €20m to land the talented defender.
Starting out as a centre-back, he has progressed through all the youth ranks and would have a U20 World Cup medal if not missing the 2019 tournament through injury.
As he has developed, he has moved out to the full-back position where Dynamo Kyiv have been able to take advantage of his fantastic left foot.
In the slow-paced Ukrainian domestic game, he loves to bomb down the wing putting in an average of three crosses a game (maxed at seven in a recent game against lowly Minai).
Wyscout reports his crossing accuracy at 30% for the season. He has three assists to boot, with his overlapping style in Dynamo’s 4-3-3 formation providing him time on the ball.
He still plays regularly at centre back for the national team, with Oleksandr Petrakov and Andriy Shevchenko both deploying back threes at various times during the last calendar year.
Benitez not messing around in the transfer market as Everton sign left-back Vitaliy Mykolenko, per @FabrizioRomano. Has also played CB occasionally and previously interested UEL and UCL teams 🇺🇦⚽️
— James Nalton (@JDNalton) December 17, 2021
It was during one of the World Cup qualifiers in March where Mykolenko faced the most difficult time in his young career.
In a poor game for Ukraine in general, Mykolenko made a very poor decision when looking to clear the ball. The resulting foul and red card provided Finland with a penalty that allowed them to leave Kyiv with a point in the battle for second place in the group.
The fallout was tough for the young defender. He was pictured on the steps of NSC Olympiskyii with his head in his hands distraught at his mistake.
A picture speaks a thousand words!
Mykolenko in the tunnel yday after getting sent off and conceding a penalty for Ukraine…
That was yesterday though, time to dust off and get back to work! No point in dwelling on the past!
— Zorya Londonsk (@ZoryaLondonsk) March 29, 2021
Social media was equally unkind. He headed to the Euro’s this summer with the black cloud hanging over him and he did struggle to shake it off. The poor performances in the group stage saw him dropped for the record-breaking victory against Sweden.
Former Arsenal target Mykola Matviyenko took his spot at left-sided centre back. However, he has bounced back even if not in the most spectacular style.
With Dynamo Kyiv and the national team this season, he has been reliable being a regular member of both teams.
Two short periods on the sidelines in early October and November aside, the attention of supporters and media has been pulled elsewhere, with the forward lines for both teams causing a lot more concern.
When discussing potential transfer targets for this window, he had certainly dropped off the radar and it is with some surprise the events of the last week have unfolded.
Transfer rumours started coming out of the club at the start of the winter break on Monday. Reliable Twitter source Dynamo Inside broke the deal around Monday lunchtime.
Dynamo Kyiv Inside reporting that Mykolenko will join EVERTON in the coming days!!!! pic.twitter.com/rsE41XNVgx
— Zorya Londonsk (@ZoryaLondonsk) December 14, 2021
AS Roma, the only other club with a concrete interest in Mykolenko at this time, were not willing to pay over €20m for the player, but Everton were happy to go slightly over that fee according to sources at Dynamo Kyiv, taking the total transfer fee to €21m.
Club president Ihor Surkis is noted for his hard-business stance. Many deals have collapsed due to this in the past. Dynamo coach Mircea Lucescu mentioned that this is the first big deal for the club since Andriy Yarmolenko left for Borussia Dortmund in 2017.
Everton will be getting a defender who has had Champions League experience in the last two years against Bayern Munich, Juventus and Barcelona amongst others.
He has faced Spain, Germany, France three times, and England for the national team since 2020. Experience will not be a factor, but consistency will.
The Ukrainian Premier League is nowhere near the standard of the English Premier League. Many of the games are one-sided affairs where top players are quite simply not tested. Mykolenko will need to be at the top of his game week in week out in front of the Goodison faithful.
It appears that Lucas Digne will make way for Mykolenko and the Frenchman will be a tough act to follow.
While Digne crosses more than Mykolenko (4.25 compared to 2.97 attempted crosses per 90′ during the previous 12 months), Mykolenko makes more passes into the final third per 90′ (5.87 to 3.51) and also attempts more through-balls and progressive passes per WyScout data.
This data suggests Mykolenko is more of a link-up player from the left compared to Digne who spends a lot of time operating as a left-winger crossing into the box rather than passing into it, but there’s nothing to say Everton’s new signing couldn’t perform a similar role to Digne if asked.
What the young Ukranian will certainly bring is a great left foot, a good engine and the tackling ability of a central defender, and he’s a player who will blossom if given game time in the English Premier League.
We hope he gets it.