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.