Dries Mertens expressed his love for Napoli and the fans, said Coach Maurizio Sarri “taught me football” and can’t wait for the Scudetto.
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“I had already played in Naples with Utrecht and I immediately liked the city and its spirit,” the Belgian told the Corriere dello Sport.
“When the club bought me, I settled in pretty quickly and made the journey with my family. The sentiment that the people of Naples feel for football and its protagonists is very different compared to what I was used to in Belgium. There is such passion, such solidarity that helps you live happily in a city that is not your own.
“Naples embraces its players and makes all of us feel Neapolitan, always. I love the sea. Nobody can take that away from me. I live by the sea, so I wake up with a coffee, look out over the sea and I feel happy.”
Mertens was a winger for most of his career, but a year ago was transformed into a surprisingly effective centre-forward by Sarri.
“Sarri taught me football. He is a Coach I really like, well-prepared and even scientific in the way he analyses games. The thing I love the most about his style of football is the way he organises the phases when we are off the ball and structures the pressure we put on opponents when they’ve got the ball at their feet.
“It feels like he has already played the game out in his head and on the field you consequently have an extra man.”
Can Napoli win the Scudetto this season?
“We hope so. It’s true we’ve been unlucky with Arek Milik’s injury and now Faouzi Ghoulam. We know that we don’t have 30 men to count on, but we want to do well and are still ahead of the other teams. Believe me, that is already a huge advantage in a campaign that will be hard-fought.”
Mertens learned from some of the best in the business during his time at the Stadio San Paolo.
“I played alongside Gonzalo Higuain and can attest he is a real world class player. We struggled when he left, as when I played with him, I knew Higuain could do things that not many strikers can.
“I’d love to be really tall, as you need physicality in certain areas of the pitch. Being small can help you when taking on defenders, but there are limitations on crosses or when trying to defend.
“My favourite goal is one nobody remembers. It was against Fiorentina at the Stadio Franchi. I nutmegged Gonzalo Rodriguez, then made a no-look pass to Marek Hamsik. He shot, the goalkeeper parried and I scored on the rebound.
“I liked it because it was a goal as a product of the collective and not just an individual gesture. That’s how I view football, because I like to target a defender and then score. In my view, that goal most sums up my way of interpreting and practising the sport.”
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