Friday December 15 2017
Mertens: ‘Stayed at Napoli to win’

Napoli forward Dries Mertens says the real Scudetto pact was with the city and “I firmly believe” they can do it.

The Partenopei are looking to win the title for the first time since 1990, and it was widely reported that the players had pledged to stay together for a real assault on the Serie A summit.

The Belgian has given an interview to Corriere della Sera, and was asked who would finish top out of Juventus, Napoli, Inter and Roma.

“I don’t much like the order of that list,” Mertens replied.

“Let’s do it like this, redo the question and switch the first two teams around.

“The Scudetto pact? That’s how you like to tell it, and that’s fine. The pact - the real one - I made with the city, which has been waiting to win something for 30 years. That’s why I stayed at Napoli.

“This is a strong team, in which I firmly believe. We’re led by a commandante who has changed everyone’s life [Coach Maurizio Sarri], turned us into a solid and motivated group and made normal players strong.

“Sarri has transferred to us his way of understanding football, a philosophy which distinguishes us from the others and which allows us to express our game in the best way: if we keep the ball, we’re always in command.

“We’re a team that enjoys playing, and that’s an added value.

“I stayed with Napoli because I believe in this group, this project and Sarri’s strength. I could have earned a lot more money in China but this is my city and the fans deserve to win.

“We’re trying and we hope we’ll succeed.”

Napoli’s form has dipped in recent weeks though, and Mertens hasn’t scored in four games…

“We’re there, we’re a point behind. Can two draws and one loss really change everything? We’re in the running and we’ll try to win it until the end.

“This is a difficult period and we’re trying to overcome it, but these things can happen. It happened to us and it doesn’t look like we’ve lost too much ground.

“Only Inter are in front of us and we’re only halfway through the journey. I don't know if we’ll succeed, but our objective remains the Scudetto.

“I don’t think we’re fatigued, we’re young men with a great desire to stay on it. I complained when I couldn’t play all the time, now I’m always on the pitch.

“Instead we’ve become victims of our own success, teams know us and they study ways to stop us. We should change something to continue to surprise and to be unpredictable.

“The second half against Fiorentina already told us that we’re recovering, we’re back on the right track. The other teams are just as strong, but we can compete.

“With Juventus or Inter? We don’t like looking at others. Both can challenge us until the end, but we think about how we can improve.

“We’ve matured compared to last year, we don’t allow ourselves to be conditioned by form or the strength of others.

“My goal drought? I’m not that striker who only lives for goals, I’m not up there waiting for the ball to come. I work with and for the team.

“An assist, as long as we win, has the same value as a goal. I prefer the three points.”

Those words could be taken as a dig at Gonzalo Higuain, who left the Partenopei to join Juventus in 2016.

Notably, Mertens didn’t wish him a happy birthday on Sunday…

“Wow, I forgot,” the Belgian insisted.

“I don’t think he noticed. It happens.

“His goal at the San Paolo? He’s a superstar, we knew that. He plays for another team now though, I don’t want to talk about him.”

Finally, the forward was asked about his future plans.

“I have a two year contract,” Mertens shrugged.

“When I finish playing I’ll never be a Coach, it’s too much stress. I’d like to teach football to children.

“Is Sarri stressed? I’d say so! Five packs of cigarettes a day, what can you say?!”

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