Some Newcastle United fans celebrated in the streets outside of St. James’ Park when it was announced that PIF completed their takeover from Mike Ashley.
The Sports Direct supremo made a number of errors throughout his tenure in charge of the club and the supporters made their feelings clear over the course of the past few years.
One gigantic error he made during his time on Tyneside with was Spanish midfielder Mikel Merino, who was sold to Real Sociedad for a reported £10m in 2018 after joining from Borussia Dortmund in 2017 – initially on loan.
The La Liga outfit made use of a release clause in his Magpies contract to snap him up from St. James’ Park after a strong first season in the Premier League.
Transfermarkt valued him at £10.8m at the time of the transfer, suggesting that the clause was a fair reflection on his ability at the time. However, he was only 22 at the time and had plenty of room left to develop and the £10m fee did not reflect his potential, which is why this move ended up being a nightmare for the Magpies.
In an interview with The Chronicle, journalist Chris Waugh explained why the player had a release clause in his contract, saying:
“Seemingly Merino’s representatives wanted to ensure he could move on after 12 months if he did not succeed in England, given that they believed the midfielder was taking a gamble in choosing the Premier League over La Liga in the first place, following an unsuccessful 12 months in La Liga.”
Perhaps it is easy to say with hindsight, but if they were concerned about his performance levels then the clause should have been negotiated in a way that it was dependent on him hitting certain marks – whether that be appearances or in individual statistics.
He played 24 matches in the Premier League in the 2017/18 campaign and the powerhouse averaged an impressive 3.7 tackles and interceptions per game with a SofaScore rating of 6.87. Rafa Benitez hailed the midfielder after the club agreed to sign him on a permanent basis. The Spanish head coach said:
“He has made a great impression at the club, and he is a good professional. He has confidence, but he is still young and has things to improve. He has to keep working hard and playing well, and hopefully he can improve and enjoy playing here.”
His statistics and these comments from Benitez highlight the potential he had, with a solid base of performances to build from and that is why allowing him to have a release clause of £10m was a disastrous decision – particularly as he has gone to develop in Spain.
Transfermarkt currently value him at a staggering £45m. This is over four times the price Newcastle sold him for in 2018 and he was dubbed “the best player in the league” by Sociedad boss Imanol Alguacil earlier this season.
It shows that Ashley made a huge mistake in allowing him to leave for such a low price, irrespective of any concerns his agent had before his permanent switch to Newcastle.