Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez has refused to rule out the potential exit of midfield star Mikel Merino this summer when probed about his potential exit.
The Spanish star arrived on Tyneside on an initial loan deal from Borussia Dortmund in the last summer transfer window, but after a bright start, which saw his move turned into a permanent one, injury struck and his form faltered.
Having been linked with an return back to Spain this summer, Benitez deemed the 21-year-old “unlucky” for his struggles during the second half of the season, the 6’1″ maestro having played second fiddle to Jonjo Shelvey and Mo Diame, but did not definitively rule out his departure.
He told the Shields Gazzette: “I think that he was unlucky with that injury and also Jonjo and Diame were playing much better.
“We can say ‘Merino is really good, better than Shelvey’, but if we’ve had words about that, it means something is right, because both are good players.
“But when one is so bad that nobody’s talking about him, something is wrong.
“When the team is playing well, I don’t think there’s a massive difference between one or the other one. They are different in terms of characteristics, but the team could do well with one or the other one.”
Football Insider verdict
Merino certainly has not been the same player the Toon Army were introduced to last August and that may well be the result of the back injury he picked up late in 2017. He certainly does not look to have the confidence he once did and regaining that belief in his own abilities is crucial this summer, if he is to play a bigger role next season. At 21, he obviously has a lot to learn and this blip is just part of what is a steep learning curve, and breaking out of his rut will only make him a better player. Will that be in Newcastle? Benitez certainly seems coy but that is probably because he knows every one of his players has a price for which the club will sell up, and he will be hoping that Merino’s, with his long term deal on Tyneside, is a big-money fee.
In other Newcastle United transfer news, Benitez has revealed his top targets for the upcoming window.