When Mikel Merino was spotted in Newcastle for the first time about one year ago, many fans, such as myself, were left wondering who he was. A quick search on Google gave a preview of a player with a ton of potential. The fact that he was scouted by Borussia Dortmund eased my mind since they are known for their ability to uncover some top players.
The circumstances that made his transfer to Newcastle possible were rather peculiar however. With quality midfielders ahead of him, Mikel Merino found himself lacking playing time. That is understandable since Dortmund are a quality side in the Bundesliga.
It is not uncommon for players of Merino’s potential, especially at a club like Dortmund, to get loaned out for playing time and development. It is surprising though that his move to Newcastle was designed to be a permanent one.
When the specifics of the deal were announced, I was surprised that Borussia Dortmund would allow a player of Merino’s quality potentially leave on a permanent basis for such a tiny fee.
My first instinct led me to question whether Lee Charnley was some sort of expert negotiator (kidding). That theory was quickly dispelled as I reminded myself of all the “couldn’t get ___________ over the line” statements he’s issued over the years.
Next, I found myself wondering if Newcastle had been duped by Dortmund. This theory wasn’t really concerning since the permanent transfer clause wasn’t obligatory. The worst case scenario at the time seemed to be that Merino’s Newcastle career wouldn’t pan out and that Newcastle’s only loss would be the initial loan fee and depth in the midfield.
Any initial concerns were completely invalidated when Mikel Merino took the field with the famous black and white stripes. Back to back standout performances versus West Ham and Swansea sent all Newcastle fans into a frenzy.
That crisp through ball to Christian Atsu against West Ham, which eventually led to our first goal of the season, epitomized Mikel Merino’s ability going forward. Winning a key match-up in the engine room against highly-rated Renato Sanches next showed Merino’s ability to impact the game defensively as well. This excellent form continued through the first half of the season.
With Merino close to forcing his way out of Newcastle, I am abruptly reminded of the circumstances with which he arrived here. Now that we have seen Merino’s ability on the pitch, it is safe to say that Borussia Dortmund did not want to sell Merino outright just as Newcastle doesn’t want to sell him now. Merino’s insistence on walking away from the challenge pushed that incoming transfer through just as its pushing this outgoing transfer through.
Realistically, Mikel Merino possesses the quality to force his way into contention at Borussia Dortmund and now at Newcastle. Borussia Dortmund is known for developing great players and Merino could’ve been one. Joining Newcastle might be seen as a step down from Borussia Dortmund, but Merino could have fulfilled his potential here under the guidance of his compatriot Rafa Benitez.
Mohamed Diame and Jonjo Shelvey have formed a great partnership at the heart of midfield, but neither of those two players are untouchable. A midfield pairing of Shelvey-Merino could have been a sight to see for years to come.
For the second year straight however, Merino has shown willingness to transfer clubs instead of fighting for his place. It’s truly a shame since he has all the tools needed to succeed here.
This whole situation brings back memories of Ben Arfa’s stay at Newcastle. Now it goes without saying that Merino and Ben Arfa are completely different players. However with both players, warning signs were present from the very beginning.
When Ben Arfa froze himself out from Lyon, Newcastle should have taken note of his volatile attitude. Newcastle also should’ve realized that Merino might leave this club in a similar fashion to the way he left Dortmund. Ultimately, the allure of both of these players was tempting enough to go through with the respective deals.
Now that the door is in sight for Merino, I must amend my thinking from the previous offseason. The worst case scenario was not wasting the loan fee and experiencing lack of depth in the midfield throughout the season. Rather, it was seeing another player with great potential fail to make it at Newcastle despite tremendous ability.
More than anything, I hope that the rumors of his outgoing transfer are false, but his departure is looking more and more likely with each passing day. I don’t believe that Newcastle will be able to find a player of Merino’s quality with the money they generate from selling him.
That is a testament to his marginal transfer fee in an outrageously inflated transfer market and even more so to his ability on the pitch (maybe a little to Charnley’s ineptitude as well). Ultimately, I am afraid that one day Merino will become a top player elsewhere and we will all be left wondering what could have been.