Staying true to the old saying ‘try before you buy’ Newcastle United have now made Mikel Merino’s loan move from Borussia Dortmund a permanent deal.
It was an element of Merino’s deal that was known from day one – an obligation to buy option included in the deal, believed to be triggered after a certain number of appearances, according to German media reports at the time.
Newcastle have now made that loan deal permanent, paying out the undisclosed fee contracted into the deal, with Merino signing a five year deal at St. James’ Park.
The fact Newcastle were able to secure the services of 21-year-old Merino on a long contract, given his status as a fantastic prospect for the future, is brilliant news for the club.
It once again just shows the draws of having a world class manager like Rafa Benitez at the helm, not only to attract players like Merino to the club, but also to help develop and nurture them from talented youths to star players.
Merino’s transfer, though, showed something else new that Benitez has brought to Newcastle: transfer guile.
An obligation to buy loan deal seemed unusual when it was announced in the summer – its a very European way of doing business – but for a player like Merino who is young and unquestionably talented but is adapting to a foreign league and without too much senior experience it made plenty of sense.
Newcastle has been stung too often in the past with transfers of young, foreign talents who simply couldn’t adapt to English football – think Florian Thauvin and Remy Cabella in recent seasons.
With the loan deal structured as it was, if Merino proved much like those players and failed, then he wouldn’t be making the team and would not hit the required appearances to make the deal permanent.
Newcastle would have still had the opportunity to see a possible star in black and white, but would not have been lumbered with him when it didn’t work out – instead simply shipping him back off to Borussia Dortmund as a failed experiment.
Merino, however, has been anything but a failed experiment for the Magpies. In fact, he’s been a revelation in midfield.
Initially thrown into the deep end early after Jonjo Shelvey’s dismissal against Tottenham, he looked a little overwhelmed by the intensity of the Premier League, and against Huddersfield the whole team was a pace or two behind their opponents.
Yet, since those opening two games, Merino seems to have settled down – remarkably quickly for a player going into a new country and league, with a new language and style of football – and has become a star in the middle.
He works brilliantly both as a foil for Shelvey – so long as the latter keeps his discipline in check now – or as a creative force supported by the likes of Isaac Hayden.
While he seems to not necessarily have quite the same range of long range passing that Shelvey is lauded week in week out for, his short range game is second to none.
Its been a long time since I’ve seen a player seem so comfortable and assured on the ball, in a league where the ball is always flying around the pitch at 100 miles an hour.
In his first seven appearances, he has numerous times taken the ball into feet, calmly turned and either driven forward or played a sensible but dangerous pass to a teammate.
He never seems rushed on the ball, and even though he has been caught out from time to time, those times are getting less and less frequent as he becomes more and more accustomed to English football’s intensity.
In some ways, with his sensible but cultured passing and the casual appearance of his play – how he never seems rushed, taking the game at his own pace – he reminds me of Andrea Pirlo.
It is no surprise, therefore, that he was voted fans’ player of the month last month, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pick it up a few more times this season if he keeps up performances.
Best of all, at just 21-years-old he has so much room to grow and develop and become even better. Under the watchful tutelage of Rafa Benitez and his backroom staff, there is almost no doubt Merino will reach those heights that he has been touted for before, too.
He has the work ethic to be a world-class player, and to see Newcastle secure him on a five-year contract as we have is music to the fans’ ears after a frustrating summer.
Things could look good in a creative, passing sense for Newcastle this season, with the short range play of Merino and the long range vision of Shelvey. Then, added to all that, there is Florian Lejeune, who looks like a fantastic ball-playing defender with a real eye for a pass, both short and long, if pre-season was anything to go by.
Merino’s permanent transfer is only good news for Newcastle, and really could be the start of the good times coming back to St. James’ Park.