The following is a translation of an interview our new lad did with Radio La Marca on August 1st. There’s a link to it at the bottom if you’d like to hear him talk in his native language!
Why Newcastle Mikel? What about the club most grabbed your attention? What is it that convinced you?
Well the truth is Newcastle is a great club, a Premier League club and it’s a club with an important history. The club showed that they have confidence in me and they told me that they wanted me last summer. The Premier League is a great lure and above all the manager Rafa Benitez will help me develop and become a better footballer.
How important was Rafa ultimately when it came to signing for the English club?
The truth is that him being there influenced me greatly. What a player wants at this stage of his career is to develop, learn and improve and Rafa is one of those coaches with an incredible CV who knows what he wants and what he likes and he has shown dedication in his interest in me. I couldn’t say no to this opportunity.
How have your first few days been?
As you’ve already mentioned I’ve only just got back from the summer break. We’ve started working and running so I’m a little tired but I’m trying to get up to the speed with my teammates.
Have you noticed any differences between the intensity of training in England having spent time in Spain and in Germany with Dortmund? Has the physical level surprised you at all?
Well I’ve only had a few training sessions so not enough to compare exactly but yeah it’s true that Premier League football and English football is very quick and intense and physical strength is very important. English teams are physically very strong and the teams are very good. I have to get myself up to their level.
At this stage of your career, given that you didn’t really get the minutes on the pitch at Dortmund, is it important to know that whilst you may not be in the starting 11 every game that you’re an important part of the squad?
Well yes, I’ll have to give 100% here to make sure that I’m selected but yeah, that’s the idea, to get myself to a level where I’m always going to play. After the last year at Dortmund I want to make sure I’m playing because that’s is what I enjoy doing.
Despite the lack of playing time, was the experience at Dortmund a good one?
Yeah, it was a very good experience. My teammates were exceptional. Dortmund’s a very easy-going city and I was able to enjoy the peacefulness of it. I experienced a new culture and the people were great with me and the fans are incredible. When I reflect on it properly I’ll appreciate that I got to spend time at a great club and experience the Champions League first-hand. To understand new things is always advantageous.
Were there any bad days there given that ultimately all you want to do as a player is play?
Well, nothing bad as such but of course there were low moments when the gaffer would tell me to keep doing what I was but it was never clear why I wasn’t playing. Yeah, there were days when I was a bit down in the dumps but I was lucky enough to be surrounded by good people who’d cheer and liven me up so it was never for more than half a day at a time. This year I’ve stayed positive and I intend to stay that way.
What we see and what they say about the German league and football is that it’s unforgettable. Stadiums always filled with fans.
Yeah, the stadiums are always full and the atmospheres are spectacular. The league is very competitive and it has some excellent players. I also think it’s a great league for young players especially in Dortmund with players like Dembele and Pulisic. It’s one of the best of the best.
A lot of clubs including Barcelona have shown great interest in Dembele. Is he as good as they say he is?
Yeah, he’s excellent. He plays with an ease and he can use both feet. He’s only young and he has the potential to get better and if he fancies it he can be one of the best.
Yeah, he gave me lots of help as did Gonzalo who also speaks Spanish and I had some really good times with them. They’re good friends.
Have you learnt any German or is it a bit complicated?
Well, I’ve learnt a little. I can more or less have a conversation with a German without telling great stories but speaking the basics.
How would you say, ‘I’m happy to play in for Newcastle’?!
Oof! That’s a tough one. Something like (says I’m very happy in German). In terms of articles it was a struggle!
As we’re running out of time let’s talk about Newcastle and the fact that you must be happy to have the opportunity to play in the Premier League?
Absolutely. It’s one of the best leagues in the world, if not the best, and it’s full of excellent teams. It’s a demanding league and personally I know it’ll make me a better player and this is one of the main reasons I signed for Newcastle.
And you now find yourself joining up with other Spaniards! Jesús Gamez who was there during the promotion season, Javi Manquillo recently signed from Atlético, Ayoze Perez who was also there last season.
Yeah, it’s always good to have fellow Spaniards around. I don’t yet know them that well although I know Manqi a little. Above all the manager is Spanish but we all talk in English amongst ourselves for a sense of togetherness.
How’s the city?
It’s a really pretty city. I visited the centre and it’s a city that has the beach nearby and I’m really happy with what I’ve seen so far during my 3 days at home. I haven’t seen much yet but there are things to see for sure.
You were close to signing for Bilbao Mikel. Tell us about it.
It was spoken about a lot and, ultimately, I’m very grateful for the interest that seemed to be around for quite a while. However, there was never a concrete offer, or at least I only heard rumours, and the truth is I don’t pay much attention to rumours.
You must have suffered with Osasuna last season?*
Yeah, it’s normal that you feel bad you couldn’t help and you do suffer. Even though you’re far away you still feel it. However, now they’ve got the opportunity to regroup and gain confidence again.
Finally Mikel, do you believe that, given last season at Borussia, with Newcastle we’ll once again get to see the footballer who performed wonders at Osasuna and you’ll get the opportunity to show us all the football we know you’re capable of?
Yes, 100%. It’s why I’ve taken this decision. I believe that, although nothing is ever 100% certain, I’ll be able to play and show what I can do. I want to play, I want to enjoy myself and I want to help my club. I’ll stay positive and above all be happy.
That was Mikel Merino who had a bad year at Dortmund where he perhaps wasn’t given the opportunities he’d hoped for but who stunned us all with his performances at Osasuna which were fundamental in getting them into the top flight. He now sets off on a new adventure as a disciple of the Magpies at Newcastle in the Premier League under the leadership of Rafael Benítez.
*Osasuna went down. No surprise given that they lost Merino and loaned big Manny Rivière who scored exactly 0 goals
Link to the radio interview – click here
Translation by Norman Riley – you can follow Norman on @LikeTheGoat