A moment that many Napoli fans have been dreading has finally come: Dries Mertens is not happy about how few starts he's gotten this season.
The words don't come directly from Mertens, but rather from his agent, former Danish star Soren Lerby. Lerby was in Naples this week to talk to the club about his client's situation, and to make it clear how Mertens felt.
"Mertens is a player of great quality and he certainly wants to play with greater continuity. For instance he expected a starter’s shirt against Juventus, he was keen on it. You can see that from the way he played when he actually came into the match.
"He was in great shape and he did what he could to change the match. He succeeded in part, but then we all know how it went."
-Source: Radio CRC via Football Italia
Mertens has started just five league matches this season and featured as a substitute eleven times, a ratio that he couldn't possibly be expected to enjoy. With Lorenzo Insigne out long-term, he surely expected to start more often, but even after he came back from his concussion Jonathan De Guzman has been preferred on the left wing. While that made sense at first when De Guzman was in fine form, the fact that it's continued since the Dutchman has cooled off has to be concerning for Mertens.
The Belgian international absolutely loves being in Naples, and has spoken repeatedly of wanting to make the city his home after his career, but in the meantime... well, he wants to start more often. Frankly, he's good enough that he deserves to, and it's hard to find fault with his apparent discontent.
Fortunately, there's no Champions-League-or-else ultimatum here. "Qualifying for the Champions League is not a necessary condition for Dries to stay in Naples," Lerby told Radio CRC. "We'll evaluate his future step by step." So really, it's not even about Napoli's struggles, just his playing time. That's relatively easy to sort out: just play him more. It's not like he doesn't deserve it.
This really is pretty straightforward: Mertens is good. Mertens deserves to play more. It'd be good for Napoli if he played more considering the current layout of the squad. Let's not screw up a good thing that this club has by making him unhappy and forcing him to leave, eh?