Despite being linked with a return to Spain with Athletic Bilbao over the January transfer window, Mikel Merino has insisted that he’s loving life on Tyneside – and feels Newcastle United is the perfect platform to gain an eventual call-up to the senior Spain squad.
The Spaniard arrived on loan last summer, but impressed so much in his first few months on Tyneside that the club activated their option to buy him in October.
Ironically, he’s struggled since making his loan move permanent, with injuries and a subsequent loss in form seeing him lose his regular place in Rafa’s starting line up over recent months.
There were bold claims from Spain in January suggesting he could be set for a move to Athletic Bilbao, however he sounds anything but unsettled based on his comments today.
Following his recent call-up to the Spanish U-21 set up, here’s what he’s had to say about his hopes and dream and happiness on Tyneside:
“The dream is to play in a World Cup or the Euros with Spain. That’s the dream for anybody in the Under-21s or Under-18s or the categories below.
“It’s the dream and the hope for me too and I hope one day I am the one to be there.
“I know it’s going to be really difficult because it’s only the best of the best get there in the Spanish national team because it’s one of the best teams in the world.
“I hope that one day that if things go well and I am at the right level I will be there.
“It would be great if that Spanish cap comes when I am a Newcastle United player.
“I know I am at a great club and Newcastle is a great place too. This is a great scenario to show everybody what I can do.
“If I am able to play for Newcastle and Spain at senior level that will be great.”
After a back injury saw him sidelined for several weeks, culminating in a loss of form on his return, Merino has seen Mo Diame and Jonjo Shelvey become Benitez’s first choice midfield partnership.
The Spaniard hasn’t looked quite the same player of late, however he admits that he is still adapting to the Premier League and life in England:
“Of course, you are always going to need time to adapt. It’s a new country, a new style of football, and I am learning a lot of things.
“I am learning things about life at the moment – not just football.
“I’m in England and I am learning a lot. I am improving my skills as a person and human being as well, not just a footballer.
“I am really happy for that and it’s different from Spain – and it’s a bigger difference from being in Germany. Germany and England are both cold places, there’s not too much sun in the winter!”
Finally, the 21-year-old admitted that, despite the cold, he is loving life in the North-East, finding the people particularly friendly and welcoming following his big move to England:
“Newcastle people are awesome and really kind to me.”
“I am enjoying the city. It’s different for me as I am used to seeing more sun, eating different food, and it is hard to live without the things you are used to, but I think I am used to living in Newcastle and enjoy it.
“The weather may be cold but the Geordie people are very warm. They make it a warm city. That is the great thing about Newcastle, the people are so kind you don’t even know it has dipped beneath three degrees!”
“It is amazing to see the stadium in the middle of the city. That’s great because the stadium is so big everybody can go on a match day and it’s always full – it’s a beautiful thing to see.
“If you go out for a hot drink or meet friends, wherever you go in the city you look up and St James’ Park. It’s a lovely city and the city gives a lot of love back to the players.
“I am happy to live here. Sometimes the Geordie people recognise me when I am in the city and they always have nice words for me.”
“It’s lovely to have this type of affection. It has helped me and my team-mates to carry on and it makes it easier to work here.”
It’s great to hear from Merino once again – a player whose gone off the radar a little of late – with it also being reassuring to hear how happy he is in Newcastle, putting to bed rumours of his potential return to Spain.
He’s a real talent and someone who really could have a big future ahead of him. Let’s just hope he can achieve his dreams with us at Newcastle – something he certainly seems to think is possible.