Mikel Merino has had an encouraging first season in England after joining Newcastle United from Borussia Dortmund in the summer. Although he has been less influential and been dropped to the bench since his back injury, he is only 21 years of age and he has the potential to be an important player for a long time at St James’ Park.
His performances haven’t escaped the attention of those in his native Spain and AS reported earlier this week that Athletic Bilbao remain very interested in Merino. They have tracked him for a number of years and it is a rumour that refuses to go away. This is partly caused by the La Liga club’s strict recruitment policy that allows them only to sign players with Basque heritage.
Newcastle supporters were concerned by the story as Merino is a player that they should be looking to keep for the long-term and it would be a blow to sell him after only one season. However, the Chronicle have since reported that the club have no interest in selling him to Bilbao as Rafa Benitez is pleased with his progress on Tyneside.
The first half of the season was very impressive from Merino as he stood out as one of the best players in the Newcastle squad. His ball-winning ability was most noticeable, with an average of 2.82 successful tackles and 2.29 interceptions every ninety minutes.
To put these numbers into context, N’Golo Kante currently averages 2.41 successful tackles and 2.02 interceptions per ninety minutes.
Although Merino is playing in a team that has a lot less possession than Chelsea, his ball-winning numbers remain very impressive and show that he has quickly adjusted to the physicality of the Premier League.
That said, he is more than a defensive-minded midfielder. He is intelligent on the ball and often distributes positively. He averages 35.89 forward passes per ninety minutes compared to only 16.13 backward passes.
Newcastle operate a counter-attacking style and Merino suits it well. Although Jonjo Shelvey and Mohamed Diame are currently the starters in central midfield, it won’t be long until the classy Spaniard is back on the team-sheet.
The player himself is happy at Newcastle and sees a future with the club, as he indicated during an interview with the Chronicle:
“It would be great if that Spanish cap comes when I am a Newcastle United player. I know I am at a great club and Newcastle is a great place too. This is a great scenario to show everybody what I can do. If I am able to play for Newcastle and Spain at senior level that will be great.”
Despite the interest from Athletic Bilbao, it would be a big mistake to let the talented midfielder leave the club this early. Newcastle are known for their policy of buying players with sell-on value and Merino fits into that category.
Mike Ashley may view this as an opportunity to turn a quick profit on a player he signed only last summer, but the Spaniard is likely to be worth a lot more in the future if he continues improving.
Putting the recruitment policy aside, Merino is one of the most talented players in the current Newcastle squad. Benitez will want to add more players with his quality rather than lose one as he tries to build the Magpies into a top-half Premier League team.
Unless the money offered is silly, the option of selling the 21-year-old shouldn’t even be considered.