Mikel Merino has been one of the breakout stars during the opening two months of the Premier League season as he has been a standout performer for newly-promoted Newcastle United. The midfielder was a summer signing from Borussia Dortmund. He initially joined on a season-long loan, but it was announced on Friday that he had now signed a permanent deal with the club. The 21-year-old has penned a five-year-deal at St James’ Park.
This is a great piece of business by Newcastle, as he has already established himself as one of the key players in the first-team and at the age of 21, he is going to get significantly better in the future. Although he was contracted to Borussia Dortmund, Merino wasn’t well-known across Europe and his low exposure meant that the Magpies were able to bring him to the North East. He is clearly a massive talent and the fact the newly-promoted side have got him speaks volumes for the scouting system that Rafa Benitez has put in place.
It has been well documented that the current ownership won’t be investing heaps of money into the club and they have been criticised for lack of investment. However, if they appoint the right man to oversee recruitment, it is possible to compete on a budget. Benitez has a lot of connections across Europe and he played a major part in signing Merino with the permanent fee reported to be around £8 million. That is a bargain in the current market and sends a message to the board that the manager should be trusted when it comes to the transfer market.
Supporters can be forgiven for being sceptical about the timing of this announcement, as Mike Ashley has shown a preference for selling key players during his tenure. It could be that he is already eyeing one last player sale before selling the club and regards Merino as the asset that will bring in the most money.
However, those looking at this deal with a positive outlook may think that the midfielder signing a permanent deal, coupled with Jamaal Lascelles agreeing to a new contract suggests better times ahead. It is unlikely that the two players would have committed their long-term futures to Newcastle unless they had received assurances regarding the direction of the club. The fact they have both signed for the next five years indicates that Rafa Benitez has provided those, which may have included promises over his long-term future as manager.
It is impossible to tell with Newcastle, but at this stage, supporters should be focusing on the upsides of this transfer and there are several.
Merino’s 2017/18 season so far
The Spaniard arrived with little fanfare and started the season out of the first-team. The red card to Jonjo Shelvey during the opening weekend gave him an opportunity and he hasn’t looked back. There were some nice touches by Merino against Tottenham, but he came on when the game was already lost, thus the pressure was no longer there.
“His performance against Huddersfield Town received mixed reviews. The majority of Newcastle supporters could see positive signs in his game, but Graeme Souness highlighted him for criticism for his role in the goal that was conceded.
“Mikel Merino, when he comes out to confront Mooy his sole intention is neither to have any physical contact or indeed not get hit by the ball. It’s a joke. You’re defending 20 yards out from your goal – take a blow for the cause. Make yourself difficult to beat. He actually runs out of the way of Mooy and the ball.
“You can’t win games of football when you’ve got people making those decisions so near your goalmouth when it’s costing you goals. It’s weak. It’s what you would see in kid’s football.”
For a young player arriving in a new country, it would have been difficult for Merino to make an immediate impact and his confidence levels wouldn’t have been helped by Souness’ comments. However, he showed maturity in ignoring the criticism and bouncing back with an excellent performance against West Ham.
Merino was one of the best players on show and played a key role in Newcastle picking up their first win of the Premier League season. During the match, he completed three ball recoveries, two dribbles, two key passes and won five aerial duels. It was a great display in both halves of the pitch and gave a glimpse of the talent that he possesses.
His level of consistency has been impressive, as he has remained at that level for every game since. In his last Premier League outing, he was caught in possession a few times against Liverpool, but that is to be expected given the way that Jurgen Klopp sets-up. His overall performance was excellent once more, as he completed eight ball recoveries, more than any other player on the pitch.
The next challenge will be to start contributing in the final third, as he has yet to score or assist for Newcastle. He scored for the Spain under-21s earlier this week and showed at Osasuna that he could be a threat in attack. In the season prior to his move to Dortmund, he scored seven times in the Spanish second division. Benitez will know that it is only a matter of time before he starts to contribute to the attack.
How far can he go?
The reason that this deal is so good for Newcastle is that Merino has the potential to become a Champions League calibre player. Dortmund noticed that in the midfielder, but they couldn’t give him the first team minutes needed to develop him. At St James’ Park, he is already a key player in the first-team and under Benitez, he will be learning every day. The 21-year-old has improved since joining on loan and he is in the right place to continue his progression as a player.
“I’m really happy to be here, and for this part of the contract to finally be official. I’m happy to be here for five more years and I hope to keep playing for this club and to give good things to all the people and the club,”
Merino talked of his happiness at the permanent move and the comments above reflect a player that is planning for the long-term at Newcastle rather than seeing the club as a stepping stone. The problem for the Magpies in the past has been that a lot of their squad have been playing for moves away rather than seeing St James’ Park as a destination in itself.
Benitez has played a key part in ensuring Newcastle are perceived differently in the world of football and it is important that they continue to sign players like Merino. The likes of Yohan Cabaye, Gini Wijnaldum and Moussa Sissoko outgrew the club. They can’t afford to let the same happen with the Spaniard. They need to develop with him and emerge as a force in English football once more.
Is Bojan Krkic the perfect player for Gary Rowett to build Stoke City around?
The 27-year-old has been an outcast at the Bet365 Stadium.
As Gary Rowett continues to rebuild the Stoke City squad over the summer there will be plenty of speculation regarding who will be arriving and departing the Bet365 Stadium.
The Potters have already dipped into the transfer market by signing Nigerian midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo and Wolverhampton Wanderers striker Benik Afobe whilst Egyptian starlet Ramadan Sobhi was sold to Huddersfield Town last week.
Xherdan Shaqiri, who is currently representing Switzerland at the World Cup in Russia, has confirmed that he will be leaving the club whilst, in contrast, Joe Allen has signed a new long-term contract to remain.
There are still plenty of question marks over current players. The likes of Jack Butland and Badou Ndiaye are expected to attract interest from Premier League clubs whilst the expensive pairing of Saido Berahino and Giannelli Imbula may not fit into Rowett’s plans but will be short of offers.
But what about Bojan Krkic?
The diminutive Spaniard was once one of the most promising young forwards in Europe after he rose through Barcelona’s prestigious La Masia academy system and made his first team debut at the age of 17.
He made over 100 appearances for the Catalan’s prior to loan spells with Ajax, AC Milan and Roma before eventually moving to Stoke in the summer of 2014.
Bojan has certainly made an impact at the Bet365 Stadium, particularly during his first two-and-a-half years with the club, but he fell out of favour under Mark Hughes and has spent the last eighteen months on loan in Germany and Spain.
At his best, the 27-year-old was a magician who produced moments of sublime skill and was a central creative influence in the team.
He was technically magnificent and would often glide across the pitch, weaving between defenders and was a genuine threat whenever he received the ball in the final third.
Bojan was one of only a handful of Stoke players from the last decade that would bring supporters to the edge of their seats in anticipation and expectation when he was in possession.
For anyone who requires a reminder of what the forward can do, simply look up his solo goal against Tottenham Hotspur form 2014.
Much has been made of his injury in January 2015. The Spaniard suffered severe knee damage in an FA Cup tie at Rochdale that meant that he was out of action for the remainder of the season and the common narrative is that he was never the same upon his return.
However, this storyline is incorrect. In fact, Bojan was at his peak over the Christmas period in 2015 when he was the centre of Stoke’s attacking trident which also included Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic.
Such was the effectiveness of the trio that The Potters picked up the nickname of ‘Stoke-a-lona’ in reference to their attacking brand of football.
So where did it all go wrong for him?
He fell out of favour with Mark Hughes and, after being dropped from the starting line-up, was never able to regain his position as Stoke City’s creative hub.
The Spaniard subsequently has spent the past eighteen months on loan with Mainz and Las Palmas but has struggled to make any significant impact either in Germany or Spain.
In many respects, Bojan’s stock has never been lower. He has fallen off the radar somewhat in the past year and it appears that any hopes that he may have had of returning to a prominent European club are all but over.
However, this opens up a potential return to Stoke despite their relegation to The Championship.
Last season The Potters were desperately short of creativity and goals – something that Bojan can provide.
The Spaniard man be the perfect figure for Gary Rowett to build his new look team around.
Joe Allen and Oghenekaro Etebo will provide defensive security and energy in the centre of midfield whilst Benik Afobe will make be the focal point in the final third.
Bojan could be the perfect link player if deployed as a number ten and you would imagine that he would be more than capable of causing chaos amongst defences in The Championship.
There is, of course, the question of whether the 27-year-old would be prepared to play in the second tier of English football, although Allen’s decision to sign a new contract and remain at Stoke would suggest that Rowett is capable of being persuasive.
If Stoke are serious about challenging for promotion, then keeping Bojan and reigniting his career at the Bet365 Stadium would be a serious statement of intent.
Jack Wilshere is West Ham’s most realistic midfield target this summer
The 26-year-old seems the best option for Manuel Pellegrini at the moment.
Manuel Pellegrini has seemingly put signing a new midfielder high on his list of priorities this summer, having been linked with some stellar names, but is Jack Wilshere (Sky Sports) his most realistic target?
The Chilean has expressed his desire to get the Hammers playing attacking and progressive football again next term, and views a quality midfield addition as vital in achieving this.
Initially, the suggestion was made that Pellegrini would attempt to move for two-time Premier League winner Yaya Toure (the Telegraph), before stories broke claiming his interest in Paris Saint-Germain’s Javier Pastore (Sky Sports).
However, talks for both have stalled, with Toure’s preference to join a top-six side (Sport 24) and Pastore’s reported wage demands of £190,000-a-week (Sky Sports) to leave the French capital, with it now looking more likely Roma will land the 29-year-old’s signature.
Wilshere would employ the tactics Pellegrini is after and would instantly inject technical quality into the current functional midfield trio of Mark Noble, Cheikhou Kouyate and Pedro Obiang. His ability to carry the ball past defensive counterparts and to spot a final pass would add extra dimensions to the Hammers’ play, and at the age of 26 he could still have his best years ahead.
The ex-Bournemouth man has revealed he will not sign a contract extension at Arsenal with his contract set to expire imminently, meaning Pellegrini could land his signature on a free.
Tottenham should elevate reported interest in Leicester City protege Demari Gray
The 21-year-old could become a superstar if nurtured properly.
Tottenham Hotspur were reportedly interested in the possibility of signing Leicester City‘s attacking protege Demari Gray a few months back, according to reports from ESPN. And after a fruitless period in the search for attacking reinforcements, Mauricio Pochettino should revive his interest in sorting a deal.
Gray contributed four goals and three assists in 30 Premier League appearances last term, and is currently the captain of the England U21 squad. But he is likely to evaluate his future with the Foxes this summer, due to his lack of regular game-time. And Tottenham seems a great fit for the winger.
Spurs have pursued multiple attacking targets since the window commenced, without gathering any real traction on any of their targets, and it seems Pochettino – for once – is more concerned with making a marquee signing, than bringing in a player with the scope to develop and grow into a top player at White Hart Lane.
Talks for Anthony Martial, Christian Pulisic and Ivan Perisic have all stalled in recent times, and a move for the Leicester City man could be just the ticket for Spurs. He brings all the attributes they’re currently looking for; blistering pace, exceptional balance, end product, a cool head and notably the ability to hit an absolute cracker if awarded space.
If he reaches his peak under the guidance of Pochettino, which is more likely than not given his immense talent, the player could double in market-value and could become a key player for the Lilywhites for years to come.