There's been a lot of speculation and concern about the future of Dries Mertens with Napoli of late. As one of the club's better players, many have hoped that he would stay with the club, but with a new manager and new tactical setup that he's an uncertain fit in, no one has been quite certain what Mertens is thinking about whether or not he wants to stay and be a part of this new Napoli.
Even Mertens' agent seemed very unsure of what his client was thinking not too long ago, and even once the training retreat at Dimaro started, no one was really sure how long Mertens would be there. But with every bit of news that's come out relating to what Mertens is doing on the training pitch and every smiley picture of him doing Napoli's usual dopey and silly off field stuff, things started looking up.
Now Mertens has spoken, and things are looking better than ever.
[The rumors of wanting a transfer] are not true. [...] I still have three years on my contract. I love playing for this team and the fans want me to stay.
We're learning this new [way of playing] that's different from that of last two years, and it's the little things that make the difference. We want to get to the top [of Serie A].
Maybe I'm looking too hard, but that bit about the new formation and "it's the little things that make the difference" seems like a not-so-subtle dig at Rafa Benitez, no? There's been a lot of quotes like that from Napoli players lately, giving further voice to old rumors of a big rift between Benitez and the players last season.
That wasn't all Mertens had to say, speaking of his desire to do whatever it takes to help Napoli, and once more of his love for the city.
With Sarri, not much changes for me. I want to train well and give my best for this shirt. I can play in any role, the coach will decide.
At Dimaro, there are a lot of fans, a lot of enthusiasm, and for us players it's very beautiful [to see]. Naples is beautiful every day. I'm happy to play in this team and, above all, to live in this city.
Mertens' love affair with Naples has been a wonderful thing to watch unfold over the last two years. He quickly made the city not just the place he lives and plays in, but his home, and has repeatedly spoken of his desire to live there in the long term, even well after his playing days are done. Hell, he's even talked about adopting local children in need of a home. That's love.
In any event, it's wonderful to see that Mertens wants to stay and fight for his place and for this team. He's a talented player -- which Napoli needs more of, not less of -- and his passion to fight for the good of his team is a huge asset. This much is for certain: no matter what, Napoli are better with Mertens than without him.