Dries Mertens’ herculean efforts carrying Napoli through a dubious phase of the campaign was nothing short of remarkable, and, in actuality, deserves its own tribute. But, does his future lie in Italy?
Since arriving from PSV Eindhoven in June 2013 for an estimated €9,5m euros, the winger’s versatility always seemed to shine, though predominantly in a bench role. Mertens was always observed as an impact sub by most Serie A aficionados. Only six of his 33 total appearances last season were from the start, meaning he was the third, fourth or sometimes fifth option behind local boy Lorenzo Insigne, Jose Callejon, Manolo Gabbiadini and Gonzalo Higuain.
To acquire the necessary minutes to truly solidify himself as a top player in Italy, Mertens had to leap many hurdles, and that’s exactly what he’s done in a big way during this 2016-17 breakout campaign. Gonzalo Higuain’s ugly divorce from the Partenopei was a call to arms as replacing the Argentine – and his 36 goals – stood as a near impossible feat. Arkadiusz Milik, tasked with filling the capocannoniere’s output, erupted in the early stages, but his season was later derailed through a severe cruciate ligament tear during international duty with Poland in October. Desperate for answers, Maurizio Sarri called on super-sub Dries Mertens to pick up the pieces. And boy, has the Belgian delivered.
Statistically, Mertens is enjoying his best season yet in Naples, capitalizing fully on the opportunity Sarri presented him as the false nine. Centrally in the 4-3-3, Mertens’ stat-line (Serie A play) jumps off the page: 30 appearances, 22 goals, 8 assists. Collectively throughout all competitions, the 29-year old Leuven-born boasts staggering tallies of 28 goals and 12 assists, proving he is highly effective and adept in virtually any attacking role.
Given that Mertens is among the contenders for this year’s capocannoniere and is a household name in not only Italy, but Europe, it begs the questions: should Napoli consider selling if a proper offer arrives?
According to Mediaset Premium, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United are set to engage in a transfer war this summer for Mertens as it’s reported Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis would let him walk for £25m – or roughly 30 million euros. That is nearly THREE times the amount they paid for him four years ago when he was a 26 year old entering his prime. Assuming Napoli do in fact sell Mertens, the haul could be massive in revamping the squad.
Goalkeeper, regardless if the Belgian leaves or not, remains top priority come June and could easily be amended. (Alex Meret?) Defensively, Napoli would benefit a great deal from adding a young central defender to partner Kalidou Koulibaly, as Nikola Maksimovic’s failed to carry his Torino form to southern Italy. Not to mention, his £21m obligation provides no guarantees next season. The midfield offers plenty and is virtually set with a blend of experience and budding youth. Looking into the attack, there is a lot to like; creative, technically sound and offering plenty of tactical flexibility. But perhaps they could explore the market and look to add a pure striker; one with size, the height advantage to win his share of aerial battles and give the Azzurri a different attacking dimension. Leonardo Pavoletti’s big €18m January move from Genoa has been anything but a hit, meaning there is a strong chance he could also head to the exit. What can be considered the strongest area of the squad may in fact become a focus this summer.
As we’ve seen with Juventus, you need to depth in all departments in order to keep pace over a long season. Recent years has shown us the ‘Old Lady’ can be tested, but in the end, their class by the bunches up and down the pitch always proved to be too much for any league counterpart to handle. Eventually, changes need to be made, and players must be sold in order to bring about the proper pieces to the puzzle. Considering Milik’s worked his way back from injury, and Insigne’s penned a well overdue extension, the Partenopei would be wise to consider capitalizing on the Belgian’s exploits. His value is unlikely to soar any higher than it has this season in Naples, and at his expense, Napoli could finally give Juventus a run for their money.
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