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Newcastle United are planning a sensational swoop for Napoli winger Dries Mertens according to reports from Belgian newspaper Nieuwsblad.
The Magpies are currently on top of the EFL Championship table with 77 points from 37 matches this season, tied with second-placed Brighton & Hove Albion and six points above the playoff position. While it is not confirmed as of yet, a promotion to the Premier League looks almost certain for Rafael Benitez’s men.
As a result, plans for next season are underway, with the club identifying Mertens as a key target for the next term. The 29-year old is reportedly a target for English giants Manchester United as well, and this could complicate the matters for Newcastle. However, they are set to pursue their interest in the Belgian.
Mertens has been brilliant for Napoli this season, having scored 24 goals from 35 appearances across all competitions and also has eleven assists to his name. He has been the main man behind the Partenopei’s run in Serie A that sees them sitting pretty at third place and was excellent in the Champions League as well where Napoli were dumped out of the competition by Real Madrid in the Round-of-16 tie.
As a result, Mertens has attracted interest from several quarters around Europe. However, Newcastle believe they have the edge over other teams because of their manager Rafael Benitez. The Spaniard was instrumental in bringing Mertens to Napoli from PSV Eindhoven, during his days in charge at the San Paolo back in 2013. The player himself admitted to it and was quoted by Napoli Today saying: “Here I was wanted by Benitez and that gives me confidence.“
Benitez rates the player very highly and has come out in praise of Mertens on quite a few occasions in the past. Speaking to Goal.com back in 2014, the Spanish tactician had said,
“I know Dries very well, I know perfectly what he can do here in Italy, he is learning to perform proficiently in his mission in the defensive phase. He is an exemplary professional who still can improve and give us even more of the many things that he is already giving us.“
Signing Mertens makes a lot of sense for Newcastle in many ways. While they have been performing well in the Championship, question marks remain over their squad strength and if they can perform with the similar squad in the English top-flight.
Also, Magpies’ options on the left-flank, Yoan Gouffran and Christian Atsu are uncertain of staying at the St. James’ Park for the next season. Atsu’s loan deal will expire at the end of the season, meaning he will be returning to his parent club, Chelsea. On the other hand, Gouffran is in the last few months of his contract with the club, but there have been no indications that Newcastle are willing to offer the Frenchman an extension.
In Mertens, they will get a world-class left-winger, who can operate through the middle as well and can lead the line too if needed. As it has been seen this season for Napoli, with the Belgian, the goals are a guarantee. He scores and he creates in plenty as well. It could go a long way in giving them the thrust and the impetus to put up a good show on their return to the top-flight. Imagine the statement that Newcastle would be making if they manage to clinch his signature, given that the likes of Manchester United are also looking at him.
However, despite the mutual admiration between Mertens and Benitez, it seems very unlikely that the 29-year old would consider a move to the St. James’ Park. Napoli look set to compete in the Champions League once again next season. Manchester United too have a chance to make it to the competition and if not, they will definitely be involved in the Europa League. Moving to Newcastle would be a major step-down for Mertens and it seems highly improbable. But, if Benitez manages to convince Mertens, then Newcastle would be pulling off a major transfer coup.