The summer transfer window is still a few months away, yet clubs have already begun to make preparations for the next season. Athletic Club’s Basque-only transfer policy does restrict the pool from which they can bring in new players, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t great options for the Lions to look into. As of now there are two names that Athletic are lining up moves for – Mikel Merino of Borussia Dortmund and Alex Berenguer of Osasuna.Both of these footballers were looked at last summer, but nothing came of the moves. Osasuna decided to spurn Athletic’s advances for Merino and ended up selling him to Borussia Dortmund for €3.7 million. The Lions then put in an offer of €2 million plus Kike Sola or Berneguer and that was also rejected. Osasuna were fighting for promotion back to the Primera and were in no mood to make a deal with a bitter rival. That was last summer.
This time around things are a bit different. Merino has barely played with BVB and has been outspoken about his need for more minutes. In a recent interview he stated that he wanted to leave during the Winter, but that the club decided it was best if he stayed. He admitted that Athletic was one of the clubs interesting in signing him and that there were contacts made. Now, there is even more competition for the 20-year-old with Borussia Dortmund having signed Mahmoud Dahoud.
If Dahoud’s arrival doesn’t limit Merino’s chances further, keep in mind that Mario Gotze, Nuri Sahin, and Sven Bender have missed a lot of time this year due to injury. Even with their absences, Merino has barely played and they should all be back healthy next year. Listening to his latest interviews it really does sound like he knows that he won’t be able to continue his development at the German club. Athletic have been monitoring this situation very closely and believe that they can reach some kind of reasonable agreement for the Spain U21 star. Of course, BVB have no need or reason to sell so it won’t be an easy negotiation for the Lions.Berenguer’s case may be even more interesting. The 21-year-old currently has a release clause of €9 million and that is a number that Athletic don’t really want to match. If it really comes down to it, they could easily hand over the money to Osasuna, but they believe that his asking price will come down a lot if Osasuna is relegated back to the Segunda. As of now, they currently sit at the very bottom of the La Liga table with a 15 point gap between themselves and the first safe spot. Osasuna will never want to negotiate with Athletic, but relegation could force their hand. The club is not in a good financial state and players like Berenguer want to be playing in the Primera. There may just be nothing they can do to stop the departure.
Both Merino and Berenguer would add a lot to the Athletic squad. Merino, who has been playing center-back at BVB, is a versatile midfielder with an eye for goal and great vision while passing the ball. He could eventually be a successor to Benat, though his game is a little more physical and technical. The 20-year-old can also provide a threat in front of goal which would give the team another dimension of attack. If signed, he would start out behind Benat, Mikel San Jose, and Ander Iturraspe in the pecking order. However, if he continues to develop at this pace it won’t be long before he is competing for a starting role at the San Mames. Merino has all the qualities needed to become a world class footballer.Berenguer can also play in multiple positions. He is naturally a left-wing, but this season he has played a lot of left-back for Osasuna due to their formation. He has proven that he can defend and his relentless work rate really gives opponents too much to handle at times. The 21-year-old is extremely fast and crafty. When the ball is at his feet he can cause a lot of chaos and would provide a new spark in the Athletic squad. The most valuable thing about him may be his versatility which would immediately improve the depth in the team for Athletic.
Signing both Mikel Merino and Alex Berneguer would be huge for Athletic Club. It would give the team two new dynamic young players and improve the overall quality in the team. However, it won’t be easy to make these deals happen. If Athletic truly want to sign these starlets, they must be ready to pay for the quality. Regardless, both players are worth their market value and these are the types of moves that the Lions have to make happen if they want to be a club fighting for European trophies.
There are a few other names that Athletic could look at during the summer. Nacho Monreal has been a target for several years now and the Lions believe that he may be available after this season with Arsenal. However, his age could be an issue. Athletic could also look into some other Basque talents across La Liga such as Dani Garcia, Alvaro Odriozola, or even bringing back Alaves winger Ibai Gomez, just to name a few. In the end, there are options out there that will make Athletic even better, but they must be willing to pay for these players. If the Lions truly want to become a European contender, they need to make some of these singings happen.