Dries Mertens is a history-maker at Napoli. Recently, the Belgian went past Diego Maradona’s record of 115 goals as the club’s second-highest goalscorers. An achievement like that would give any player legendary status. But Mertens’ links with a move to Inter would not please partenopei fans.
Mertens currently has 117 Napoli goals to his name. And he stands only four behind club topscorer Marek Hamsik. Considering how he came to the San Paolo for €9.5 million in the summer of 2013, has been a huge bargain.
Maradona himself was full of praise for Mertens when he broke the record against RB Salzburg. The Argentine said (via Daily Mail):
“Mertens was born to be a striker, but he didn’t know. All his goals couldn’t be scored by someone who isn’t a striker at heart.
“I’d like to do something so that Mertens doesn’t leave. If it’s right for a professional to always look for a better salary, but it’s also true that in no other corner of the world would he feel loved, respected, pampered and important like he does in Naples.”
But the recent happenings at the Partenope aren’t promising. The denial of the ritiro from the players has led to Aurelio de Laurentiis openly stating that he could sell some players soon. He won’t just dock their wages, some can even leave. Mertens, who is being linked with a move to China, could be part of the exodus.
But the recent links with Inter would give the Belgian international some promise about a stay in Europe. Since the reports have roots in Belgium, they seem to be very genuine and believable.
Mertens’ current deal at Napoli runs out at the end of the season, meaning he will be able to leave the San Paolo for free. That won’t put a burden on Inter for pursuing a player that could cost them buckets of money. Like someone like Romelu Lukaku did.
As things stand, the nerazzurri have a pretty settled front two. Lautaro Martinez and Merten’s compatriot Lukaku are regulars upfront and are firing on all cylinders. The Argentine has 13 goals to his name, while the Belgian has found the net 11 times so far.
Inter’s other options in that position happen to be Alexis Sanchez, Matteo Politano, and young Sebastiano Esposito.
The Chilean, who is on loan from Manchester United, is suffering from an ankle injury. Politano, on the other hand, hasn’t been playing much. For someone who is a right-winger by trade, playing up front has been a new experience.
The former Sassuolo man has made only two starts, coming on seven times from the bench. He has no goals or assists to his name either. His time is drying up. Esposito has come on thrice from the bench.
At this point in the season, Inter’s depth in the front two has not been seriously tested. While the midfield is being dealt with blows, the forward line hasn’t been a problem. That is why Politano is not getting enough time for a player like him.
As far as Mertens goes, he has found the back of the net eight times in all competitions for Napoli. In times when things have gone flat and toxic, he has always been delivering. He is now 32 and it was Maurizio Sarri who transformed him into a striker from the winger that he once was.
Until the 2015-16 season, Mertens was a player who could play on either wing. From 2016-17 onwards, he was Sarri’s first-choice striker. Arek Milik’s injury troubles did help, as Mertens contributed to 36 goals in 35 appearances in the Serie A that season.
A player of his experience and leadership can be invaluable. Napoli know that. The fact that he’s still scoring for them shows his importance.
He isn’t a target man, but he’s more of a pint-sized workhorse like Lautaro. At 32, he wouldn’t demand as much first-team football as Lautaro would. And being the experienced one, players like Lautaro, Lukaku, and Esposito can learn from him.
And he will cost nothing, bar the wages. He knows the league more than most. A player like that on a free transfer can prove invaluable. Inter can’t miss out.