Last week we brought you Mikel Merino quotes from an interview he did in Spain whilst on international duty.
The Newcastle midfielder asked yet again about the possibility of a move to Athletic Bilbao.
His answers were fine (see below), saying that he was enjoying life at Newcastle under Rafa Benitez and whilst he would be open to a return to Spain, that was for a time in the future depending on the circumstances of the moment, rather than looking for any early exit from St James Park.
With a lot of competition for places now at Newcastle, with a pretty much full squad for Rafa to choose from, Mikel Merino has now only started two Premier League games since December.
Having to settle for a place on the bench, it was a bit of surprise that he was left out of the 18 on Saturday, with Isaac Hayden taking his place amongst the subs, the former Arsenal player coming on to help beat Huddersfield.
After the game Rafa sad simply that there’s a lot of players competing and Hayden had trained well (with possibly Merino away on international duty counting against the Spaniard).
However, and ‘exclusive’ on Tuesday morning has claimed that Mikel Merino has now actually told Rafa Benitez that he wants to leave Newcastle.
Allegedly Athletic Bilbao making their interest clear and the Basque midfielder supposedly keen to return to his homeland.
Whether Teamtalk do know something, or whether this is simply kite flying and putting out an easy two plus two guess at a story, is open to question.
Whatever the truth, or not, of this story, Rafa will surely be very keen to keep a player who is only 21 and has already shown with his early form this season he can play in the Premier League, before picking up a back injury in October.
Jonjo Shelvey and Mohamed Diame are excellent at the minute but you need more than two central midfielders in your squad anyway, plus Merino has so much scope to potentially be a big star of the future.
‘Athletic Bilbao are lining up a summer deal for Newcastle midfielder Mikel Merino, after he told the club he wants to join the Basque giants.
Merino, who only joined Newcastle on a permanent deal in October after signing an initial season-long loan from Borussia Dortmund, has found life tough going in the North East.
The 21-year-old has been unable to become a regular, but he is also unsettled and TEAMtalk can reveal he has told Rafa Benitez of his desire to leave the club.
Now Bilbao have expressed their desire to sign him, and Merino is keen to move back to his native Basque country.
Merino completed a permanent move to Newcastle from Borussia Dortmund in October 2017 after an impressive start to his career in England
He arrived at St James’ Park on loan in July with the possibility of a full transfer included in the deal, and has done so well on Tyneside that the club handed him a five-year contract.’
The Mag – 26 March 2018:
Mikel Merino started 12 matches for Newcastle United before the turn of the year.
The Spaniard a key player in the wins over West Ham, Swansea, Stoke and Crystal Palace, as well as the credible draw at home to Liverpool.
A back injury picked up against the scousers back in October then ruled out the 21 year old and it has taken him a long time to get his fitness and then form back, only starting two PL games since December. The form of Shelvey and Diame in recent times ensuring only a place on the bench for the former Borussia Dortmund player.
A bit like Andy Carroll with Newcastle United, each transfer window sees Mikel Merino supposedly a target for Athletic Bilbao, an easy/lazy story as with their preference/insistence on Basque credentials, the likes of the Newcastle midfielder is always going to be of interest.
Merino is away with the Spanish Under 21s and starred on Thursday night, contributing an excellent assist as they beat Northern Ireland 5-3, a home game with Estonia follows on Tuesday.
Interviewed by AS Sport over in Spain, the Newcastle man has been asked about the interest from Athletic Bilbao and whether he would be interested in a return to Spain, especially the possibility of playing for Athletic Bilbao.
Highly thought of in Spain, Mikel Merino says he is ‘very happy’ with Rafa Benitez despite a lack of games and also reveals that he sees his best position as an attacking midfielder, rather than the more defensive role he tends to play for Newcastle.
Mikel Merino talking to AS Sport:
Would you like to return to Spain?
“Yes. I am very happy to be in the Premier and the experience in the Bundesliga, but someday I would like to return to the Spanish League.”
Does it bother you to be associated with Athletic (Bilbao) in each transfer market?
“No. The fact that both Athletic and other teams are said to be interested is a sign that you are doing things right. I am very grateful for the interest they put in each market because it means that I’m doing things right.”
Do you see yourself playing in San Mamés (where Athletic Bilbao play)?
“You can never guess where you are going to play (in the future).”
In what position are you most comfortable?
“In the position of ‘eight’, as I did in the (Spanish) Under-19s, with a midfielder behind that gives me more freedom because I like to get to the area, shoot on goal … It’s where I think I am the best footballer.”
(Spanish Under 21 colleague) Ceballos – Do you understand his small role in Madrid (only two La Liga starts for Real Madrid this season)?
“He is a spectacular footballer who, if he were me, would have many more minutes in his club because he deserves them for the quality he has. When you’re young and you’re in a big club I know it’s hard to have minutes, but a coach has to be brave and give the youngsters who earn it minutes.”
At the age of 21 years you have already played in Spain, Germany and England … What differences are there?
“They are very different.
“The German is a very strong football, very physical, in which the teams are very well planted and work very well tactically.
“And the Premier is the top step for a football player. It is the most difficult league, very intense. The players are physically the best there is.
“The tactical and technical level is not as good as the Spanish League but the physical level is brutal.”
How does it go with Rafa Benitez at Newcastle?
“Very happy. He is very clear about what he wants, he works a lot tactically.”
Which footballer has surprised you most in the Premier?
“Salah. Shutting up many mouths of all those who doubted.”
Do you see him playing in Madrid?
“With that level, you are ready to play for any team.”