Dries Mertens From a Struggling Winger to the Versatile World Beater
Height: 5 feet 6 ½ inches (1.69m)
Current club: Napoli
Current market value: £27.00m (€30.5m)
Dries Mertens – Belgian striker for Napoli, where he has been playing since 2013. Like many modern stars, Dries had to run around the academies of small clubs before making himself known across European football.
From 1998 to 2003, the young player spent in the youth system of Anderlecht. But he failed to impress the managers. Even more, he was expelled from the academy of the club, which allegedly did not see any prospects in Dries. Guess what was one of the reasons for this decision? Yes, that’s right – the height of the forward.
It was a big blow for a 17 years old player. Dries was ready to give up the football career, but he got unexpected invitation to the youth team of Ghent. There, he tried his best to impress the club manager, but two years later he was loaned to the modest Eendracht Aalst (Эндрахт Алст). Only six months in the team and he is named the club’s best player of the year.
But no such luck! Ghent bosses still were not impressed. In 2006, Dries was again loaned to the “AGOVV Apeldoorn” (Апелдорн) club from the neighboring Netherlands. 35 appearances on the pitch and 2 goals – this was the first full season for the player. The Dutch club decided to buy a player from Ghent and did not regret it. The following season, the young talent netted 15 goals, and another 13 in his third season.
In the spring of 2009, Apeldoorn agreed the forward’s transfer to the club of the first division – Utrecht. Not letting grass grow under his feet, on August 16, 2009, Mertens scored the first two goals for Utrecht in a home match against VVV-Venlo. In general, for two years in the club, the player scored 21 goals and did 34 assists in all competitions.
With such stats, the move to a more high-status club was inevitable. Ajax and PSV had long been watching Dries, but the latter turned out to be more assertive. In the summer of 2011, PSV laid out 8 million pounds, which was quite a large amount at that time.
The player continued to not only score a lot, but also managed to bring his talent to a whole new level. Often playing the role of a playmaker, Mertens began to give more assists, asserting himself as a universal striker.
In the summer of 2013, Dries moved to Napoli, where he plays today. But his career in Naples went through certain difficulties. It was impossible to oust Gonzalo Higuain from the lineup of the 2013-2016 model of Napoli. The Argentine, with his hyper-performance, left no chances to anyone.
Therefore, Rafael Benitez used the Belgian as a trump from the bench. Despite the small amount of playing time, Mertens continued to delight the Napoli fans with effective actions.
The year 2016 was the turning point of the Belgian’s career. Gonzalo Higuain went to Juventus, and the players who came to replace him for various reasons did not show their best. Maurizio Sarri, the then helmsman of the club, staked on Mertens, shifting him from the flank to the center of attack. As a center forward, the short player soared immediately – 34 goals and 15 assists in all tournaments for the club.
This season, new coach, Carlo Ancelotti, decided to put Dries on the bench. But we are sure that experienced manager will show enough quick-wittedness to give a new chance to the Belgian to prove his professional suitability.