A short time at the club, but he didn’t need long to settle in and show his quality – Spanish technical midfielder Mikel Merino.
Rafa brought him to the club initially on loan from Borussia Dortmund – signing permanently only 2 months later after triggering a clause in his contract.
Merino made 24 competitive appearances for the Mags, scoring once, a late header that was the only goal against Palace at home.
From day 1 you could tell the class he had, a great touch and passing technique – a good fit for the Spain national side which he now features regularly for. A proper Rafa Benitez kind of player. Merino is a different level to anyone we have in the midfield now, however at 21 years of age, it must have been hard for him to settle in a new country.
Speaking to The Guardian, Merino has talked about his time in the Premier League, the “spectacular” fans and the unrest he felt between them and Mike Ashley:
“What I most take with me, the thing I’ll remember when the years pass, is the fans; the way they lived football.”
“Its a pity, the relationship with the owner, supporters were unhappy.
“You felt it, the players knew.
“The fans were spectacular.
“There’d be a chance to break and they’d go mad. It could be 70 metres from goal and they thought we might score.
“It hurt leaving the fans”
He went on to talk about the differences between the Premier League and other league he has played in.
In Spain, heading on to the pitch you’re thinking about tactics, positions, the ball –where it has to go and when. In England, I didn’t think much about the ball; it was more about the battle. I am who I am because of the Premier League: it made me harder, stronger, taught me to take the hits. You have a perception of football and you get there and it’s not that: it’s more physical, more direct, the game doesn’t stop, these are men with enormous bodies. I understand why some can’t adapt.”
“The league changes you.
“I remember Rafa (Benítez) telling me to play quickly, one or two touches.
“He said if they get to you, they’ll hit you or take the ball.”
“I am who I am because of the Premier League.”
What sort of person a £10m release clause in his contract after signing him for £6m? Yep, Lee Charnley. Now it makes sense! Probably one of the worst deals Newcastle have done, after signing a new contract at Real Sociedad – with a €60m release clause included.
Last night was the first time he had faced an English team since his departure – a heavy 4-0 defeat to Man Utd in the Europa League.
It doesn’t always work out like this, but the grass may be greener in Spain for Merino – playing in Europe, living in San Sebastián and producing performances all Newcastle fans could see he was capable of years ago.