As the season winds down, Napoli don't just have their must-win matches to think about, they also have a number of contract issues to figure out before the summer officially dawns and the transfer market opens up. Among them is Belgian winger Dries Mertens, and that promises to be a tricky situation to resolve.
The under-utilized attacker has long been known to be fervently dedicated to the city, making proclamations in the past couple of years about his desire to make Naples his post-career home and for he and his longtime girlfriend to adopt a child from the city. But that's after his career, and according to an interview published in Belgium last weekend, Mertens either wants an extension with a guarantee of playing time, or he wants to leave Napoli.
Not so fast, say Napoli, who claim that the interview is over a year old. That claim is tough to corroborate -- we did find a perhaps vaguely similar interview from the timeframe the club specified, though it's from a different publication than this past weekend's interview -- but the more important factor is that Napoli apparently want to extend Mertens' deal until 2020.
With Mertens' current deal running out in 2018, that would give Napoli another couple of years to figure out how to best utilize the talented attacker before facing the same "extend or sell" decision at the two-year-until-expiration mark they are at now. There's no question that Mertens is a wonderfully talented attacker, but for all of his three years with Napoli he's been the first man off the bench in attack, not the regular impact starter he craves to be.
Unless that looks like it will change, Mertens might prefer to leave even in the face of a contract extension offer, and if he does he's likely to have plenty of suitors lined up. Multiple English teams are said to be interested in Mertens, including midtable club Southampton. With the record-shattering new TV deal coming into effect, they'd have plenty of money to throw around should they so choose -- and more importantly for Mertens, he might be more likely to find a starting role there than he would be in Naples.
It would be sad to see Mertens go, but it would be perhaps understandable. Good players want to play and start and have more chances to make an impact. While Napoli would offer him the chance to compete at the highest levels in Italy and hopefully in the Champions League, he wouldn't be guaranteed to actually be playing significant minutes in doing so. If time on the pitch is more important to Mertens -- and again, that would be perfectly understandable -- then perhaps this summer is the time to say goodbye.