Speaking exclusively to the Chronicle, Mikel Merino has admitted that he “misses a lot of things from Newcastle” – despite impressing at Real Sociedad following his return to Spain last summer.
The 22-year-old endured a topsy turvy 12 months on Tyneside. He arrived on loan from Dortmund and immediately shone, but no sooner had we turned that temporary move into a permanent one, he struggled with niggling injuries, endured a real loss of form as a result and was suddenly linked with a return to his homeland just about every week.
Diame and Shelvey’s stunning form over the second half of the 2017/18 season restricted him, but there was a lingering fear that his head had been turned by something.
A few months on it emerged that a £10.5m release clause existed in his contract, and La Liga side Real Sociedad moved quickly to snap him up in last July – bringing what could’ve been an exciting career in England to a premature end.
Here’s what the Spaniard has had to say to the Chronicle when reflecting on his time at the club:
“Once I made the decision (to leave) Rafa called me. We were not talking for too long but he wished me the best,”
“I did the same and I still try to follow all the matches that Newcastle play. I’m still a Newcastle fan. I think I will always be one.
“It was tough. It was not an easy decision for me. I miss a lot of things from Newcastle and the way they treated me was pretty awesome because I felt almost like I was at home. The city was really beautiful and the people there showed me a lot of love. Not only the league and the football but the culture and everything.
“I was living there with a friend and we both miss it a little bit because they are experiences that maybe you don’t live again in the same way. This time was really special.”
“It was great to have a Spanish manager who has made such a big impact in the game and in England with the fans,”
“I learnt a lot of things: what I need to do and what I don’t have to do on the pitch. That helped me a lot. Not only him but all my team-mates and of course in the league, every single match was special and you could learn something different from every training session.
“I think that Rafa’s a very constant coach. He always knows what he has to do. He’s always on top of the players. He’s always taking care of every single detail with every single player. It doesn’t matter whether you are the goalkeeper or the striker, he’s always taking care of you and that’s what makes him a great coach for me.”
Finally, Merino reflected on the St James’ Park crowds reaction to his one and only goal for the club – with him scoring a late winner to beat Crystal Palace in October 2017:
“I remember running back to our own half because we had to start the match again and listening to the whole stadium singing my song was amazing and I couldn’t help but smile a little bit because it is a memory that I will always remember,”
“He comes from Spain and he’s f****** class. In fact he’s better than Fabregas. That’s Merino!”
Good luck to him. It’s a real shame that he left so soon, especially when I get the feeling we saw just a glimpse of what he’s capable of during his 12 months on Tyneside.
A classy player and someone who clearly still has a lot of love for Newcastle United. Here’s some of his best moments in black and white: