Mikel Merino looks set to leave Newcastle in the coming days, with Real Sociedad’s head coach Asier Garitano recently discussing his keen interest in the Magpies midfielder on Spanish radio (via EstadioDeportivo).
Merino’s contract includes a £10.5million release clause according to ESPN (11:49, 25th June), so Newcastle will be powerless to stop the 21-year-old returning to La Liga this summer.
Merino’s a popular figure on Tyneside after a strong start to his debut season. But could there be unforeseen benefits to him leaving St. James’ Park? Football FanCast look at the potential consequences – some positive, some negative – of Merino’s expected departure…
Newcastle seem to be operating on a sell-to-buy policy this summer, which explains why they’re yet to make any signings with the exception of a permanent deal for last season’s loan success Martin Dubravka. Newcastle fans will obviously be disappointed to see Merino leave, but his departure should at least get the ball rolling on the inward front, giving Benitez some money to play with and removing Mike Ashley’s excuse for not bringing anybody in so far.
That could well end up being a direct replacement for the Spaniard but considering he became little more than a bit-part player by the end of last season, Benitez might prioritise strengthening other departments of his starting XI instead. Merino’s release clause would put the Magpies over halfway to affording Kenedy in a permanent deal, with Chelsea valuing him at a reported £20million.
Having impressed at Osasuna and received a season’s worth of education at Borussia Dortmund, there’s no doubting Merino’s huge potential. He’s a regular for Spain at youth level as well and some have even made loose comparisons with former Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich star Xabi Alonso.
Of course, Newcastle fans saw much of that promise in the early half of last season, and the real concern is that they’re about to part with a young player on the cheap who is set for a huge future in the game.
Toon supporters have just witnessed a near-identical situation with Florian Thauvin too. The Frenchman hardly got a look-in on Tyneside but was sensational for Marseille last season, helping push them to the Europa League final with 25 goals and 13 assists across all competitions after returning to the Ligue 1 club in summer 2017 for a modest £9.8million.
Merino isn’t quite the same type of player, and seemed to acclimatise to life at St. James’ Park far better than Thauvin ever did, but he’s another young player the Magpies could quickly come to regret selling after not issuing him enough game-time.
Whenever a first-team player moves on it always creates room for a youngster to break through and Sean Longstaff could be the one who ultimately gets the chance to impress. The central midfielder was sensational for Blackpool last season, bagging eight goals in 42 League One appearances, and that kind of potency from the engine room would certainly add a new element to Benitez’s side.
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The 20-year-old is set to return to the third tier for the new season, this time with Portsmouth. But the loan deal is only for six months so should Longstaff continue to delight in League One and Benitez decide against signing a direct replacement for Merino, he could end up coming into Newcastle’s squad midway through 2018/19 to help with the final run-in.
He’ll be match fit and battle-hardened at that point too, assuming the Pompey stint goes well, so the youngster could have a noteworthy impact.