Napoli have had some iconic players play at the Stadio San Paolo over the last few decades. Diego Maradona certainly is one and many others have followed. Marek Hamsik was the latest one and so was Dries Mertens. The values of these icons reduce over the years, but Mertens’ importance is far from dull even today.
Mertens’ contract at the Partenopei runs out in the summer of 2020. Clubs have been linked and there was a point when he seemed close to Chelsea. While that didn’t happen, there is still a chance Mertens ends up elsewhere soon. But despite age and a running contract, the Belgian is still a key player for Napoli.
By scoring his goal against Barcelona recently, Mertens had become the club’s joint top scorer in history. He shares that spot with Hamsik, having gone past Maradona earlier in the season itself. In all competitions this season, Mertens has contributed to 18 goals in 29 outings for the club.
In what has been a season of instability, Napoli have resorted to beating big clubs and have beaten Juventus, Lazio and Inter. The campaign has seen Mertens become more of a European player than ever. He’s played only 1218 games in Serie A, but has played all seven Champions League games and has contributed to as many goals.
Arek Milik has been the striker option for Rino Gattuso, but the Pole isn’t that mobile forward that Mertens is. Milik has scored 12 goals and that includes a Champions League hat-trick. But Mertens brings that pace and completeness to the plate that Milik doesn’t. It explains why Gattuso started Mertens against Barcelona.
It was Maurizio Sarri who turned Mertens into a striker from a winger when Gonzalo Higuain had joined Juventus. He still has that ability to drift wide and deep, while using his pace to come inside with pace. In Serie A, he has come up with 1.8 key passes per game and he’s scored 15 goals despite taking 2.7 shots per game in all competitions. That is fewer shots per game than Milik and more goals.
It shows how efficient he is in front of goal. Perhaps that is just typified by how many clubs want him. But he’s done this job on a consistent basis over the years and he’s often been happy to play in his original left-wing position too, replacing Lorenzo Insigne. This again comes from his intelligence and experience as a footballer.
That isn’t to say Milik is a bad player at all. But having Mertens adds variety to the forward line. He comes up with crucial goals in many games and what he brings to the table is what only Hirving Lozano might bring. But the Mexican has struggled to settle into the club in his first season, with the numbers of options in the club’s forward line.
Jose Callejon’s contract runs out in the summer of 2020- like Mertens himself. While there has been talk of a contract being offered to Mertens, but that isn’t true for Callejon. If the former Real Madrid man does leave, Lozano can be an option on the right even though he isn’t as good a defensive player as Callejon.
Having Mertens will help Lozano to become the player the Belgian is. And over time, Mertens can be ushered out for some cash instead of going for free. He’s still a useful player and losing him for free will be a bad deal for Napoli.