Arsenal's Fran Merida, currently midway through a six month loan spell at Real Sociedad, has given an interview with Spanish football magazine Don Balon and says exactly what he thinks of Arsenal, Arsene Wenger, his time at Real Sociedad and his decsion to leave Barcelona.
Recent reports in the Spanish press have suggested that there is a growing anxiety that the player is being underused by his current coach at second division Real Sociedad. However, Merida, who has made just six starts since returning to Spain in January, appears satisfied with his role at the Basque club. Merida told Don Balon “I’m adapting really well, I’m delighted at how I’ve been welcomed to the dressing room, the club and the city. Everything’s been great since I arrived here.”
Jose Ramon Eizmendi replaced Chris Coleman as coach of Sociedad in the New Year and the club president Inaki Badiola moved quickly to bring in some new blood and agreed a six month loan agreement for the highly rated Arsenal youngster. According to Mundo Deportivo, the Sociedad President is said to be concerned that his coach’s refusal to grant Merida more playing time jeopardises any future agreements between his club and Arsenal.
Merida, however, remains publicly supportive of his coach in Spain and is optimistic about the club’s future, he said “There have obviously been changes at the club and we are all hoping that they are for the better. Real have spent forty years in the Primera Liga, it’s a big club, with a history and silverware and getting back in to the top division is the only thing that they should be aiming for.”
Merida has no regrets about accepting to the loan agreement and said “The opportunity came at Christmas. I was happy at Arsenal, but I‘d been playing in the reserves for the last two years. I spoke with Joseba Diaz, my agent, and with Arsene Wenger. They both agreed that the best thing for me was that I should go out on loan to get some experience, to learn new things. I felt the same and I didn’t really need that long to think about it.”
Fran is untroubled by the suggestion that perhaps, being in Spain, it is a case of ‘out of sight out of mind’ for Arsene Wenger: “Arsenal told me that someone would be watching every game and that they would be keeping a close I on me. I’m not cut off from Arsenal, just on loan for six months” said Merida.
It is unlikely that the player wishes to be too far from Arsene Wenger’s expert eye for too long however, and the player has the utmost respect for his boss at Arsenal.
“He’s been around and knows how to treat a player. He’s brought a philosophy to Arsenal, he’s quiet and not always on your case. He seems to be a great a trainer and a great person” said Merida.
So what has Wenger and the youth set up at Arsenal taught him? “A lot, not just on the pitch, but off it as well and they have helped me too mature a great deal too. I’ve got to know different cultures and languages. I think I’ve improved, above all in my physical and defensive aspects. I’m a midfielder with a good touch, but that doesn’t mean I can’t help out in defence” replied Merida.
Arsenal have a clear policy of scouring the globe for young talent, like Merida, and the player said “There are practically two teams at Arsenal and both with a young average age. The club and Arsene Wenger have done a great job in my opinion and now it is starting to bear fruit. There are twenty-something players all at a very high level”
“They are having a great season. It’s an exciting Premier league season because you have Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea all competing for the title. I think Manchester United are the biggest obstacle that we have to overcome” added Merida.
The player is clearly excited about Arsenal, does he not regret being away from the Premier League? “I’m 17 years old and still developing. I need to get some playing time and experience in the big leagues, every year is important. For now I’ve just got to enjoy my time here and have a great experience, learn as much as I can and help Real Sociedad back in to the Primera Liga.” said Merida.
Does the player feel that he has had to take a step down from Barcelona, and then Arsenal to end up playing in the Spanish second division?
“No not at all. On the contrary, I believe it was a big step for me because Real Sociedad are a big club and they don’t deserve to be in the second division. They can really help me to gain experience at a competitive level,” replied Merida.
Nevertheless, the youngster has already rubbed shoulder with some incredibly talented players in the past and he has fond memories of his playing time alongside them. Merida said: “At Barcelona I played with Bojan Krkic from 8 years old through to 15 or 16 years of age – and I also played with Gio Dos Santos. Bojan and I played together in the Spanish under 17 side and we’ve worked our way up together – and now he’s making great strides and heading right for the very top.”
Merida clearly looks up to his friend Cesc Fabregas (Merida was even given Fàbregas’s old room after arriving from Barcelona’s youth academy in the summer of 2006) and the youngster says that Cesc “is a great player. He is a leader and I’m very happy for him. He’s there for me and I always try to learn from him.”
Fran Merida has followed in Fàbregas’s footsteps, from Barcelona’s La Masia to Arsenal, but his departure from Barcelona has proven somewhat more controversial.(Read La Liga Review's joint article in The Times)
The Catalan club took Merida to court, claiming that he had signed a pre-contract agreement at 14 to sign professional terms two years later. They claimed that Merida had requested his registration a year later and disappeared for several months.
The manner in which he left, and the subsequent fallout from his defection must have been stressful for the youngster. Merida said “It wasn’t traumatic but yes, it was painful because I kind of had to leave through the back door. I didn’t like that and it was hard on me, I was only 15, and things were being said about me. But I don’t hold any grudges”.