At the World Cup in Brazil, during Belgium’s group-stage match against Algeria, Manchester United’s Marouane Fellaini and Napoli’s Dries Mertens were, for 10 minutes at least, the most momentous and decisive Belgian footballers around.
Belgium had been trailing 1-0 for most of the match, but in the 70th minute, Fellaini had equalised with an explosive header. Not long thereafter, in the 80th minute, Mertens had slotted in the winner after a ferocious dribble, granting the Belgians their first real shot of World Cup ecstasy in years.
But glory never lasts forever. And almost two months on, the World Cup, which ended in the quarter-finals for Belgium, is now in the rear-view mirror of football’s collective mind, rather than right there in front of it. At this point in time, the moment of ecstasy Fellaini and Mertens got to share almost seems irrelevant.
Wholly different matters are on the minds of most footballers. In the summer, the sport turns into a business, and it becomes less about the joy, taking on an almost Machiavellian character.
Free from the pressure to perform, and with the attention to the team’s performances on the pitch diverted, players—as well as clubs—think about the future and plot moves on the transfer market.
As such, Fellaini and Mertens will have been pondering their futures while sipping their cocktails and peddling on their inflatable beds in the swimming pool during their holidays.
Fellaini’s first season at Manchester United was a complete disaster. Mertens did well at Napoli, but he failed to break into manager Rafael Benitez’ first XI definitively.
But while both players had something to think about, they will have done so coming from an entirely different perspective. Where one of them will have been bargaining from a position of power, the cards in his hands, the other one will have been coming from a feeling of desperation.
At Napoli, Dries Mertens scored 11 goals in 33 appearances last year. According to Squawka, he also created 54 chances.
Those numbers are impressive. All things considered, should a club willing to guarantee him a regular starting spot make a move for the Belgian, there is no way Napoli would let Mertens go easily—even if the player wishes to move.
Fellaini, on the other hand, saw his reputation tarnished as Manchester United went through a train wreck of a season under new manager David Moyes. Slow, inattentive and lacking in versatility, Fellaini failed to give the United fans a fraction of what they had hoped for.
With the transfer window now in full swing, and with Sky Sports reporting that Fellaini has been linked to Napoli, the discrepancy between the two Belgian players has been laid out in the open.
Where Mertens’ stock has risen, putting the winger in a position of power and providing him with options, Fellaini’s standing has pummeled, leaving him with little control over his future.
That afternoon in Brazil, during Belgium’s group-stage match against Algeria, Mertens and Fellaini were Belgium’s golden boys. But no matter what will happen this transfer window, and where they will end up, they are now worlds apart.
For Napoli, it would be an option to let Mertens go, but only if a club is willing to reach deep into their pockets. Otherwise, they should perhaps look to promote the winger, rather than get rid of him.
Does that mean Napoli should not see their supposed interest in Fellaini through? Of course it doesn’t. At the World Cup, the former Everton midfielder showed us glimpses of the player he once seemed to be. At Napoli, he could perhaps revive his career.
Who knows. Maybe more moments of ecstasy would be in store for Mertens and Fellaini, there in the upper echelons of Italian football.