The 29-year-old is one of the revelations of this season’s Serie A and could move on in the summer if he doesn’t pen a new deal, writes Sam May.
The soon to be out of contact wing wizard, was voted Belgium player of the season for 2016. He beat the likes of Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Radja Nainggolan of Roma to the award. Following the sale of Gonzalo Higuaín to Juventus, Mertens has assumed a more senior attacking role this season, and quickly helped the Italian side forget about the Argentian striker.
Despite the number of Belgium’s so-called golden generation to have established themselves at elite clubs, the country has yet to produce a top goalscorer in one of the top five leagues – that could be about to change.
He is currently achieving more than what his national teammate Romelu Lukaku is doing in England. To think this is a player who was released by Anderlecht and loaned out by KAA Gent to AGOVV Apeldoorn, after being told he is physically not able to ever become a professional football player, despite his dribbling and shooting technique. Mertens became the captain of AGOVV in the 2008/2009 season and won the “Golden Bull” which is awarded to the best talent.
Later moving to Utrecht he was runner up as player of the year to Barcelona striker Luis Suarez who was playing for Ajax at the time. He also won the David di Tommaso-trophy for the best player of FC Utrecht that year. Moving to PSV, he turned into one of the most efficient players in the Eredivisie.
Mertens won one Dutch Cup and one “Johan Cruijff schaal” (game between Champions and Cup winner) with the Dutch top club and while he kept on improving it was soon became apparent it was time for another step up in his career.
This season, fighting for a place on the left side with local lad Lorenzo Insigne at Napoli has proved tough, so competition as a striker was even tougher. Arkadiusz Milik suffered an injury whilst playing for Poland, despite scoring seven goals in eight games for his new club.
Mertens was an impact sub. Only six of his 33 appearances last season were from the start. Since December 2016 he has exploded. Thirteen of his 16 goals have come in his past eight appearances. That’s one every 57.6 minutes and his performance against Torino was arguably the best by any player in Serie A this season, scoring four goals. Napoli fans were singing his praises.
In Serie A, no one since Pietro Anastasi in 1974 has scored hat tricks in consecutive games. No one since Antonio Angelillo in 1958 has struck seven times in back-to-back appearances. No one since Andriy Shevchenko in 2000 has scored a faster hat trick. The man born in Leuven has now broken all records.
Napoli paid €9 million for Mertens. Since his move in 2013 he has proved doubters wrong and excelled for the Italian side. He is in his prime and is playing the best he has in a long time. He would certainly fit the bill should Jürgen Klopp come calling, especially if Liverpool can swoop to sign him on a free.