It’s now or never for Napoli’s mini-Maradona

Mats Fredrix

No controversial peeing dog celebration this weekend after Dries Mertens scored his 19th Serie A goal of the season against Crotone. At the age of 29, the former PSV man is well underway to make this season his best one yet and his blazing form in Italy and in Europe has not gone unnoticed. As Jose Mourinho’s charm offensive for Antoine Griezmann muddles along, the Manchester club seems to turn to other high-scoring winger-strikers to give it a go at Old Trafford.

Mertens, a fan favourite in Napoli and often compared to Diego Maradona, has always stressed to be happy in South Italy. However, the Belgian is yet to renew his Napoli contract as he faces a crossroads in his career.

He is reportedly stalling signing a new big-money contract to see what offers come from the two powerhouses in Manchester. Ill Mattino, a Napoli based newspaper, claim Mertens met with representatives of Manchester United in the lobby of a Neapolitan hotel last week.

Although Mertens’s people have denied it concerned an official meeting, it is fair to assume he is at least considering having a go at what most of his fellow countrymen do week in week out, compete in the Premier League.

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Roma fans were not pleased to see Mertens desecrating their corner flag after chipping in his first of two at the Stadio Olimpico. The Roma-Napoli enmity is enormous and has drawn many players into its embers. Mertens, however, has always managed to take the high road.

After Gonzalo Higuain’s Juventus exit, Mertens, and not Arkadiusz Milik, is the one who took over the scoring responsibilities. Manager Maurizio Sarri moved the Belgian to a more central striking position and it paid off, 19 goals and seven assists in the Serie A, five goals and four assists in the Champions League.

His goals and assists make the difference in the big games. Earlier in the season, he assisted two in three minutes to claim the three points away at San Siro against AC Milan.

The last time Mertens was on this sort of a scoring spree was in 2012 when he was in the Netherlands playing for PSV Eindhoven and scored 21 and assisted 15.

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He is deeply appreciated in his home country although he never played in its first division.  As so many Belgians he went to the superior football education system in the Netherlands. A big reason for that was that the youth academies of Anderlecht and Gent deemed him too small to make it into professional football.

Nowadays among the other stars of the Belgian generation, Mertens has earned himself the bitter-sweet title of ‘super-sub’. He invigorates the Belgian Red Devils with his enthusiasm and dedication every time he comes on. As he now has as many competition goals as the Premier League’s top scorer, Romelu Lukaku, Belgian manager Roberto Martinez might soon try out the newly converted striker up top.


The 5ft5 Belgian has been a fan favourite everywhere he sets foot, from Apeldoorn in the Netherlands to the capital of Campania. In a Flemish football wives series called ‘Duivelse Vrouwen’, it was clear that Mertens absolutely loves life in the City of the Sun. However, for any decent football player, there is always that urge to take it to the the next level.

In today’s footballing world, a 29-year-old is said to have almost passed his peak. Mertens has, however, never been plagued by any major injuries. In fact, since 2012 he has never missed more than five games because of injury. On top of that, his explosivity suggests his glory years might still be in front of him.

Will drizzling Manchester really be the place where he will ultimately fulfil his dreams, probably not. But Mertens seems to be at least entertaining the notion of leaving paradise to face the glory of the rugged ballgame in the North.

If Mertens did join the Red Devils, how would his value compare to their current squad… 


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