It's that time of year when Andriy Yarmolenko is inevitably rumoured to be on his way out of Ukraine's Dynamo Kiev. It has been the same story in every transfer window since 2012, making the saga one of the longest in the game's history. After all, the tricky Ukrainian winger was supposed to be on his way to AC Milan immediately after playing a significant role in the 2012 European Championships held on home soil. Now just a few months away from the next edition of the Euros, and Yarmolenko is still in Kiev. Not only that -- he has recently extended his contract until 2020, which means that a move would be very complicated.
Yarmolenko's new contract, signed in October, is quite simply the most sensational piece of football news the country has ever heard. The original deal was due to expire in June 2016, and the player himself back in August doubted that an extension would happen.
"It won't make sense to extend it, because I will be 26 already. I told the [club] president [Igor Surkis] that it will be my last contract. I have already signed for an additional year so that the club will be able to get a fee for me. The president decided not to take that money, and I can't force his hand," said Yarmolenko.
The star was talking about Surkis' refusal to sell him in the summer. Stoke City made an official offer, while there were also reports of serious interest from Everton and Arsenal. Borussia Dortmund allegedly made an attempt to sign him at the end of the transfer window, however, the president made a bold decision.
"Dynamo need Yarmolenko more than ever these days. He is our leader, the backbone of the team. People tell me that we might lose him for free like Dnipro lost Yevhen Konoplyanka, but I am used to losing money. A good performance in the Champions League is more important for me than Yarmolenko's transfer fee. If we fail to qualify from the group and there will be a good offer, I will sell him in January," Surkis said.
Some cynical fans even joked that it will be better for Yarmolenko to fail in Europe in such circumstances, when he missed the opening Champions League fixture against Porto due to illness.
And yet, long before Dynamo pipped Porto to finish second in their Champions League behind Chelsea in dramatic fashion, Yarmolenko signed a new five-year contract. It seemed totally illogical. Why on Earth would a sought-after player who is about to become a free agent do that?
"I still want to try myself in a top league and to play for one of the best teams in Europe, but I want the club to get a decent fee in return. I could move on a free transfer, but considered it to be wrong," he said.
It was an incredible decision, but one can understand Yarmolenko's good intentions. Yet here comes the most astonishing part of the story. In Yarmolenko's new contract, there is no release clause at all. Dynamo can demand any sum they want for their biggest star.
Vadim Shabliy, the player's agent, claimed that the new deal won't hurt his client's chances of moving to a bigger club. "Players of his level cost about €50-60million in Europe. I don't think that they aren't able to pay that for Andriy," he said.
Those words won't make potential suitors more optimistic. With all due respect to Yarmolenko's talents, he hasn't proved himself at the highest level on regular basis yet. It is very hard to imagine Arsenal paying for him more than they did for Mesut Ozil, while the likes of Everton and Stoke can't even dream of such fees.
When taking everything into account, one can only assume that Yarmolenko didn't want to leave in the first place. He played his hand in negotiations with Surkis, and used interest from Premier League clubs in order to improve terms of the contract he promised not to sign. His long term aspiration seems to be remaining a one-club legend.
With this in mind, Yarmolenko's chances of moving abroad this month are extremely low. The whole of Dynamo's play is based around him, and Surkis will be very reluctant to sell the stalwart with the team finely positioned the retain their domestic title, which they finally won last year under young coach Serhiy Rebrov. In addition, the Ukrainians will stand no chance against Manchester City in the last 16 clashes in the Champions League without him, and those games are their top priority at the moment.
The winger himself injured knee ligaments in December in the first minutes of the game against Maccabi Tel Aviv, and hasn't fully recovered yet. He will train individually as Dynamo are about to start their training camp in Spain. "The injury is not pleasant and I am feeling discomfort. There is no rush. We will take our time, and consult the doctors," Yarmolenko said. Those are not words of someone who is considering moving to a new club in the coming weeks.
In fact, that will be the worst timing for a transfer as far as Yarmolenko himself is concerned. Euro 2016 is bound to be the most important international tournament of his life. He made a good impression four years ago, when Silvio Berlusconi and Adriano Galliani dreamed of making him Andriy Shevchenko's heir at San Siro, but Ukraine were somewhat unluckily eliminated after just three games. Now, with a comfortable draw and a good chance that three teams could qualify from their group into the last 16, Yarmolenko can hope for a longer experience.
Naturally, he wants to prepare for the tournament in the best possible fashion, which means playing regularly for Dynamo rather than risking sitting on the bench in the Premier League. Everton were mentioned as a possible destination, but the versatile Yarmolenko is used to playing on the right wing during the last years, which means direct competition with Gerard Deulofeu. Switching to the other flank will be counterproductive as far as the national team is concerned, because Yevhen Konoplyanka is a natural left winger, and Ukraine need Yarmolenko on the right. Also, bear in mind that Yarmolenko has never worked under a coach who doesn't speak Russian or Ukrainian.
In short, fans have been used to Yarmolenko transfer speculation for years now, and it would feel weird if his name wasn't mentioned around this time of year. However, it would be wise to not to take reports too seriously. The only manager who should be concerned about him is Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini. It will be a huge surprise if the Ukrainian leaves Dynamo this month. But on the other hand, he is a man full of surprises, isn't he?