According to reports from Italian outlet TuttoMercatoWeb, Chelsea are close to reaching an agreement to sign Dynamo Kyiv centre-back Ilya Zabarnyi - who would be available for a reported fee of around €12 million.
Despite not turning 19 until September, Zabarnyi has already been capped at senior level for Ukraine, and has experience playing in both the Champions League and Europa League. The youngster has been referred to Stamford Bridge by ex-Blue Andriy Shevchenko, who highly recommends the defender.
After joining the Dynamo Kyiv academy aged 13, Zabarnyi was first involved in the senior setup during the 2019/20 campaign - making the bench three times. It was the 2020/21 season, however, when Zabarnyi really impressed and established himself in the first-team.
Zabarnyi only missed five of 26 available league games as Kyiv won their 16th league title, also scoring his first senior goal in a 5-0 thrashing of Ingulets. Zabarnyi looked experienced and accomplished playing in a back four - combining sturdy defending and positional awareness with a calmness on the ball and ability to build attacks from the back.
Zabarnyi played every minute of Dynamo Kyiv’s Champions League qualifying campaign - beating Belgians Gent 5-1 on aggregate. The youngster then featured in every minute of Group Stage G, facing off against Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in Barcelona and Juventus.
Kyiv finished third to drop into the Europa League, however Zabarnyi shone in the 1-0 win over Ferencvaros - winning 100% of his aerial duels, and playing 40/48 accurate passes, including six accurate long balls. Standing at almost 6"3, Zabarnyi is a dominant aerial presence, and plays with a confidence beyond his years.
Zabarnyi also played every minute of the subsequent Europa League campaign, as his side lost to eventual winners Villarreal in the last 16. In the 0-1 second leg away win at Club Brugge, Zabarnyi won 80% of his ground duels and completed a superb 91% of his passes, as well as making seven clearances.
Zabarnyi’s average of 6.1 clearances per 90 ranks in the top 21% for centre-backs in Europe’s ‘top five’ leagues.
It was this form that saw the defender called up to the Ukrainian national side in September last year, who will have a chance to impress on the national stage at the upcoming Euros this summer - in a Ukraine squad with an average age of 25.9.
If Chelsea do formalise a move for Zabarnyi, who is valued at €6 million by TransferMarkt, it is likely the defender will be loaned out to continue his development playing regular first-team football.
This strategy has been used by the Blues in the past. Fellow centre-back Matt Miazga was signed from New York Red Bulls in 2016 and has played a total of 131 games on loan at four different clubs in four different countries, only featuring twice for Chelsea in this time.
Defenders Michael Hector and Papy Djilobodji also took a similar route - gathering loan experience before leaving on permanent transfers. Effectively, if a player out on loan is good enough, they’ll be reincorporated into the first team (Andreas Christensen). If not, they can be sold for a profit that is reinvested by the club into more signings (Mario Pasalic, Romelu Lukaku).
Regardless of whether Chelsea complete a move for Zabarnyi or not, he is certainly an exciting prospect worth monitoring at this summer's Euros tournament.