From Next Cesc To Nearest Exit: The Fran Mérida Story

Fran Mérida was rumoured to be the next big thing and for a while it looked like he might just be. Now it’s all going downhill with the player looking for a new club.
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Fran Mérida was rumoured to be the next big thing and for a while it looked like he might just be. Now it’s all going downhill with the player looking for a new club.

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There may not be a Miss World sitting on a duvet of dollars won at a Casino, there may not be a Northern Ireland waiter and he may not be George Best but the question is just the same. A player who Arsene Wenger once described as having ‘too much quality’ is suddenly looking at a very uncertain future. So the question is: Fran Mérida, where did it all go wrong?

A new star was born and the entire world was watching. The Spanish invasion had started and all eyes were on a former Barcelona youth product called Cesc Fabregas. The Spanish TV company Canal + came to London to speak to Cesc. As he was interviewed in his home, there was another player present, Fran Mérida. He like Cesc had come through the ranks at Barca and like Cesc he had joined Arsenal at 15. When he arrived he was quickly dubbed the ‘Next Cesc’ and whilst Arsenal fans were enjoying the actual Cesc, the hype surrounding Mérida was continuing to grow as he put in some impressive displays at youth and reserve level and for some it was only a matter of time before he broke into the senior team.

A loan deal to Real Sociedad was agreed as Wenger believed that the guaranteed playing time would help Fran progress and have him knocking on the door of the first team for the 2008-09 season. Although he had to wait until March of that season before making his Premier League debut, Wenger was more than happy with him and his performances in the Carling Cup, saying ‘He has been doing very, very well. He looks really good in training and is getting stronger all the time’.

Merida was getting anxious though and longed to play. A loan deal with Levante was agreed for the 2009-10 season but Wenger pulled the plug saying that he believed that this would be the season Mérida broke through. Publicly the Spaniard declared he was happy to stay at Arsenal but privately he was disappointed, as he would have had regular first team football at the Valencia outfit and also been close to his family in Barcelona. As his contract was running out The Gunners announced that a verbal agreement was in place but then Madrid club Atlético de Madrid were announced to be interested and Arsenal were furious at what they claimed was illegal tapping up.

Whilst Arsenal fans were enjoying the actual Cesc, the hype surrounding Mérida was continuing to grow as he put in some impressive displays at youth and reserve level and for some it was only a matter of time before he broke into the senior team.

From January Spanish newspapers were reporting that the midfielder had signed with Atlético and in June he was presented officially to the fans. He announced as a child he had an Atleti duvet on his bed and Atleti fans were delighted to see their club sign a potential star. Whilst Spanish TV stations replayed his fantastic goal against Liverpool in the Carling Cup they were overlooking some vital points. For as gifted as Mérida was, he had still only clocked up six Premier League appearances in three years and when had Arsene Wenger allowed a youngster to leave Arsenal for free and for that player to go on to better and bigger things? For Mérida it was all-good though.

Fran joined the reigning Europa League Champions but Quique Sanchez Flores was struggling to build on his success of the previous season. The team failed to get out of the group stages in the Europa League and were struggling in the league. Whilst La Liga appearances were scarce and he made his case in the Copa Del Rey scoring in both legs against Universidad de Las Palmas CF. He added to his goal tally in the Europa League in December scoring against Bayer Leverkusen and it looked like he might be finally coming to age.

As his contract was running out The Gunners announced that a verbal agreement was in place but then Madrid club Atlético de Madrid were announced to be interested and Arsenal were furious at what they claimed was illegal tapping up.

He would make seven more appearances that season but it was becoming clear that patience with the youngster was wearing thin. Flores was becoming increasingly annoyed by Mérida’s failure to adhere to instructions and was seen on occasions screaming orders at the Catalan. To add to his woes his last four games all ended in defeat, one seeing him coming off at half time, and in the end Flores ran out of patience and he was sidelined for the rest of the season.

Flores left Atlético and Gregorio Manzano came in and it was a chance for Mérida to start all over again. He was selected in the squads that played in the Europa League qualifiers but didn’t make it off the bench. When the call came from Portuguese side SC Braga to join on loan he jumped at the chance. Team-mate Eduardo Salvio had been sent to Benfica the year before and had enjoyed a very successful spell there and so the move was seen as something positive. Sadly once again he failed to make his mark and after just over 132 minutes he was sent back to Atlético, seven months early.

At first his exact whereabouts were unknown. He was supposed to return to Atlético but there was no sign of him at the training complex. Then late January Diego Simeone said he would give Fran another chance. He got three games as a substitute but they all ended in defeat. He showed skill but he also showed desperation, desperation to impress. He looked like a player who was not only fighting for his place but for his future. It wasn’t enough though and once again it was rumoured that Mérida would move on at the end of the season.

Right now he continues to train with Los Rojiblancos but is not part of the main squad. The saddest part is that Fran Mérida is a very decent and kind lad.

In July this year it was reported that he would have his contract cancelled at Atlético and he has been linked to clubs such as Real Betis and Rayo Vallecano but still no deal has materialised. Right now he continues to train with Los Rojiblancos but is not part of the main squad. The saddest part is that Fran Mérida is a very decent and kind lad. After a Europa League qualifier last season against Stromgodset in July he spoke to the podcast This is Atleti. Even though he was disappointed that he hadn’t played he still took time out to answer questions and more, he did the interview in English. He was sincere and honest as he spoke about his future and the doubts surrounding it. One year later and those doubts are now more concerning than ever.

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