Dries Mertens, the Manchester United and Chelsea transfer hopeful, was given a contract extension until 2020 Saturday morning by the Partenopei.
The Belgian forward proved to be a hot commodity on the market as he exploded onto the scene this year for Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli squad, and he served to be a great replacement amidst the departure of Gonzalo Higuain. Aurelio De Laurentiis, the Napoli President, had a bitter taste in his mouth after the highly controversial departure of Higuain to rival squad Juventus and wanted to ensure that the situation would never again repeat itself.
During an interview with Kiss Radio, De Laurentiis explained the parameters of the contract and how the negotiations unfolded. He told Kiss Radio that from 2:30 in the afternoon (Italian Time) to 1:40 am, he was on the phone with Mertens lawyers and counselors structuring a new contract for the star striker. To avoid another Higuain situation, the contract has in place a release clause that only allows China to exercise it, not any other European league, most notably Serie A and Premier League.
When asked about the recent signing of Mertens, De Laurentis told the radio station:
“We are setting up a war machine, we can no longer lose points to smaller teams.”
Throughout the season, Napoli proved to be one of the highest scoring teams in Europe. Sarri’s passing efficient offense proved the most stable in all of Serie A, with his squad leading in possession, accurate passes per match, shots on target per match, and goals per match. With Mertens and Insigne leading the attack, De Laurentis found it necessary to retain both those players.
Mertens enjoyed the breakout season of his career in the striker role for Napoli, playing out of his normal position. For Napoli’s 2016-17 Serie A campaign, Sarri threw Mertens, originally a winger, into a makeshift striker role for the majority of the campaign – and he smashed all expectations. Sarri’s offensive genius enabled Mertens to thrive in this current offence with a breakout season, which can be attributed to two main factors: the dramatic departure of Gonzalo Higuain and the injury of striker Arek Milik during international duty back in the Fall.
De Laurentis’ primary solution for Higuain was Polish froward Milik, who broke out for Napoli during the first weeks of the campaign. Braces against Milan and Dynamo Kiev – and a goal against Benfica – meant the Naples side had found their man in Milik, however, his ACL tear allowed Mertens to make the striker role his own. With the offense centered around Mertens, he was able to excel. Insigne and Mertens proved to be an unstoppable dynamic duo, with both players setting each other up with beautiful goals. While Mertens wasn’t netting goals for the Partenopei, he was setting his teammates up, adding an 11 total assists during the campaign.
His most beautiful assist came against Milan, and went to none other but his partner in crime, Lorenzo Insigne. This dynamic duo has proved to be hard to stop for Serie A teams, and these two players are the main reason why Napoli has excelled all season.
To say Mertens had stepped up is an understatement. Called upon by Sarri at a time where the club needed one of their key men to go above and beyond expectations, the 30 year old did just that as his 28 goals finished second in the ‘capocannoniere‘ race, trailing only AS Roma’s Edin Dzeko who bagged a whopping 29.
On the final matchday of the season, Napoli’s 4-2 win over Sampdoria wasn’t enough to secure second as a Roma slip up at the Olimpico versus Genoa was needed on Totti Day, which did not arrive. Yet, the third place finish for the Naples club means they clinch a spot in the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League Qualifiers. And, regardless of which players come and go this summer, Mertens will be called upon to pick up where he left off. That is, score at will and ensure a Group Stage birth is secured.
Sorry potential suitors far and wide, the Belgian magician is here to stay.