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The permanent signing of Mikel Merino indicates a positive future for Newcastle United

Jake Jackman

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Merino

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.

Jake is a journalist based in the South East. He is a Newcastle United fan and has a keen interest in Dutch football. Jake can be found on Twitter here - @jakejackmann.

Tottenham Hotspur

Alireza Jahanbakhsh perfect alternative to Malcom if Tottenham miss out

The Iran international scored 22 league goals last season.

Liam Thomas

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Alireza Jahanbakhsh
Photo: Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur are edging closer to signing Brazilian starlet Malcom from Bordeaux with the 21-year-old keen to make the switch from Ligue 1 to the Premier League, according to The Sun.

However, despite the apparent interest from Spurs, no formal bid has been made by the North London side and, considering the rife competition for the youngster’s signature from around Europe, other alternatives should be considered.

This is where Iranian World Cup star Alireza Jahanbakhsh comes into the mix. The talented 24-year-old forward could be the perfect alternative to Malcom if Spurs miss out on signing the Brazilian starlet.

You only have to look as far back as last season to see the quality Jahanbakhsh possesses. Plying his trade in the Eredivisie with AZ Alkmaar the forward managed to notch up an impressive 22 goals and 14 assists in 39 appearances for the Dutch side.

(Photo by Saeed Khan/Getty Images)

This killer instinct in front of goal is something Spurs have been craving to lift some of the pressure off of talisman Harry Kane’s shoulders in recent seasons.

Furthermore the Iranian international has to ability to play anywhere along the front three and is equally capable of playing with both feet, two traits which led to Spurs’ interest in Malcom in the first place.

However, despite the forwards fantastic record and undeniable talent, there will always be an element of risk when requiring a player from the Dutch top flight, with many players in the past failing to step up and settle into life in the Premier League.

Nevertheless, Jahanbakhsh’ World Cup performances for Iran proved he is more than capable of stepping up to play on the big stage. This is something Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino should consider if they miss out on signing Malcom.

It remains to be seen whether or not Tottenham will land the signature of Bordeaux’s Malcom. However, if they don’t, Jahanbakhsh could prove to be a savvy bit of business and a cheaper alternative.

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Liverpool

Does Allan have a future at Liverpool after nomadic loan spells?

Liverpool brought in the talented midfielder three years ago but he has yet to play for the club.

Mathew Nash

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In the summer of 2015, pictures emerged of an unknown footballer in training with Liverpool’s first-team. It soon emerged that the player in question was Allan Rodrigues de Souza. Liverpool had signed Allan from Internacional in a deal reported to be in the region of £500,000. He looked like a great signing for the future and went on to play exceptionally well during a loan spell at SJK, helping them to their first Finnish title.

But since then it has been something of a struggle for the midfielder. Subsequent loan spells at Sint-Truiden in Belgium, Hertha Berlin in Germany and Apollon Limassol in Cyprus have been less of a hit. His last spell ended when a shoulder injury needed surgery and he has struggled with his nomadic career path since.

(Photo credit should read CARMEN JASPERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

One pressing issue is his need for a work permit. So far the 21-year-old has not yet managed to procure one and can therefore not play for the club.

Even if he did, it seems Allan would be some way away from the first-team picture at Liverpool.

When he first arrived and was sensational on loan in Finland it was excitement with trepidation considering the standard of football in the nation.

Now Liverpool fans will be wondering if the player will ever make it at Anfield. With his contract expiring next summer 2018-19 could be last-chance saloon.

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Stoke City

Gary Rowett opens the door for Robert Huth’s return to Stoke

Martyn Cooke

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Robert Huth
Photo: Getty Images

Stoke City boss Gary Rowett has opened the door for Robert Huth to return to the club on a permanent basis as the central defender continues to train with the first team squad as he attempts to regain his fitness.

The German was released by Leicester City at the end of last season following a hugely successful three-year stint at the King Power Stadium which included their historic Premier League title triumph in 2016.

Subsequently, he approached Stoke at the start of the summer and has been allowed to train with Rowett’s squad whilst he looks for a new club.

Huth remains a popular figure at the Bet365 Stadium having made over 150 appearances for The Potters over the period of half-a-decade following a £5 million transfer from Middlesbrough in 2009.

The 33-year-old formed a dominant central defensive partnership with Ryan Shawcross that provided the solid foundation on which the club’s modern success was built.

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

The notion of Huth re-signing for Stoke is a romantic concept, one that many Stoke supporters will be keen to see, and Rowett told the Stoke Sentinel that the door is still open for the German defender.

“He’s coming to train. We’ll see how it is for both parties and we’ll assess it as we go along … We’ll try to help him and that’s where we are at the moment. I don’t think there’s any real rush to make a decision.”

“There’s no strings attached for either party but come in and train, we’ll get you involved – we’re a little bit short in terms of numbers in that area anyway.”

Stoke are currently short of central defensive options following the departures of Kevin Wimmer (on loan to Hannover 96), Marc Muniesa (who has signed for Girona) and Kurt Zouma (who returned to Chelsea following the conclusion of his loan spell) as the club adapts to life outside the Premier League.

With that in mind, Huth’s availability as a free agent and his pre-existing standing within the club makes him an attractive option as Rowett continues to re-mould his squad in preparation for the new season. He has already featured heavily in Stoke’s early pre-season activities and fixtures whilst he is also likely to be joining the club on their tour of Germany.

However, Rowett is right to be cautious about signing the German defender.

Huth did not make a single appearance for Leicester last season as he struggled with a string of injuries and fell considerably down the pecking order at the King Power Stadium whilst, at 33 years of age, he is stepping into the twilight of his career.

Could he realistically adapt to the physical demands of the Championship where there is a requirement to play two matches most weeks as part of a demanding fixture schedule?

Furthermore, Stoke should be looking to the future rather than attempting to recreate previous glories.

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Whilst Huth remains a legend in the eyes of supporters he would only provide a short-term solution and will undoubtedly return as a very different player than the one that last played at the Bet365 Stadium in 2015.

Rowett is quite rightly looking to bring in a new generation of young, fresh and hungry talent which will be led by new signing Oghenekaro Etebo, Nigeria’s 21-year-old World Cup star. Does Huth fit within those parameters? Probably not.

Whilst Huth’s return may be a somewhat romantic notion that would certain provide a short-term solution to the club’s lack of defensive cover, on a practical level which looks at the long-term in would leave much to be desired.

Ultimately, much may depend, as it so often does in football, on money.

Stoke have already made significant moves in the transfer market following the arrivals of Etebo and Benik Afobe whilst they have been linked with a string of other big-money signings.

Without the safety net of Premier League TV revenue the signing of Huth on a free transfer could allow Rowett to focus his investment on strengthening other areas of the team.

So the door is certainly open for Huth to return on a permanent basis, although Rowett will need to decide whether his focus is on the short-term or long-term future of the club.

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