The Deadly Forward
Full Name: Dries Mertens
Birth Date: 6 May 1987
Place of Birth: Belgium
Playing Years: 1996 to present
Football Club (Current): Napoli
Belgian Third Division Player of the Season: 2006
Eerste Divisie Golden Bull: 2008
Di Tommaso Trophy: 2010
Belgian Footballer of the Year: 2016
Formative Years and Youth Career
Dries Mertens is, in a way, Napoli’s Messi in terms of his height and physical dimensions. After starting his career at the now-defunct Stade Leuven, he enrolled at the youth academy of Belgian club Anderlecht, where coaches found him too short to even compete at the professional level. He departed from Anderlecht for another Belgian club KAA Gent. He completed two seasons in Gent’s youth academy, and was loaned to Eendracht Aalst for the 2005–06 Belgian First Division A. Unlike Messi, Mertens, nonetheless, still did not earned his coaches’ confidence, despite being named Player of the Year in the league’s third division, given his physical frame.
Senior and International Career
In July 2006, Mertens was once again loaned, this time, to Dutch club AGOVV Apeldoorn. He became a fan favourite amongst De Blauwen supporters after scoring 2 goals in 35 appearances in the 2006-07 season of Serie A. AGOVV’s manager John van den Brom made the Belgian’s move permanent, which Mertens paid with 15 goals across 38 appearances at the end of the season. He was, then, named club captain for the 2008-09 Eerste Divisie season, wherein he scored 13 goals and awarded the Golden Bull for his excellence.
Mertens left AGOVV for FC Utrecht for the 2009-10 Eredivisie for a €600,000 transfer fee. He further solidified his name as an excellent striker at the end of the season, netting 14 goals throughout and was awarded the Di Tommaso Trophy for the team’s Player of the Season.
In the following year, Mertens left Utrecht for PSV Eindhoven for a €13 million transfer fee. In his first 7 appearances, he scored an excellent number of 11 goals for the new Eredivisie season, and ended the season with 21 goals in 33 matches.
Mertens time with PSV showed everyone that he is more than his physical appearance. He has proven to be an exceptional striker as he started the 2011-12 Eredivisie season with a large contribution to PSV’s 4-2 victory over Ajax, lifting the Johan Cruyff Shield. He made a hat trick with Jürgen Locadia in PSV’s 6-0 victory against VVV-Venlo. By the end of the season, he had made 14 league goals and 17 assists.
Mertens’s prowess had caught the attention of Napoli manager Søren Lerby. The Italian club had eventually signed him up for the 2013-14 Serie A season with a €9.5 million transfer fee. The versatile striker started his debut in Serie A with a 2-0 win over Sampdoria and another with the same tally against Juventus. Although later used as a substitute player, Mertens had contributed more than he should have for Napoli in the Supercoppa, Europa League, and the following Serie A, netting 10 goals and 11 assists throughout.
He eventually solidified his senior role in the team as he became central to Napoli’s performance in the 2016-17 Serie A. He scored a hat-trick in a 5-0 win against Cagliari and four for the 5-3 victory over Torino. Another hat-trick was made in their 7-1 win over Bologna. By the end of 2016, Mertens was named Belgian Player of the Year.
The Belgian striker also played for his country’s national team. He started as a junior player, but eventually got called up to the senior team by coach Georges Leekens. In 2014, he secured the national team’s 1-0 victory over Tunisia, and a 2-1 win against Algeria. He also appeared in the UEFA Euro 2018, helping the team win its match with Andorra and Israel. Playing for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, he netted five goals throughout, securing Belgium’s win over Estonia, Panama, and even England.
Mertens’s mastery and control of his form allowed him to make successive hat-tricks and continuous goals that proven to be fatal and finishing for his team’s match rivals.
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