Fran Mérida arrived at Atlético in the summer, confirming January rumours of a verbal agreement to sign with los Colchoneros at the end of his last season with Arsenal.
The signing of the Barcelona youth product, who was once billed as Cesc Fabregas’ successor, inspired a lot of optimism among the Atleti fan base given his status as a highly-regarded prospect.
With his admission of being a life-time Colchonero, the 20-year-old quickly won over the hearts of many supporters without having set foot on the pitch of the Calderón.
But in his first months in Madrid, the young starlet has hardly featured in manager Quique Sanchez Flores’ line-ups. Though he has appeared in 10 of our 16 Liga matches to date, he is often sent in during the dying minutes of decided games. Merida has only played 304 minutes of domestic league action so far; just 4 more minutes than defensive substitute Juan Valera.
Despite the slow start and the struggle to convince Quique to count on him more often, the midfielder remains cheerful.
“I know I still have a lot to prove at this club, but just being a part of this squad is very flattering to me,” he told the club’s official site. “I have been here for six months, and I have a lot to learn. I have the privilege of being with the club that I have always loved.
“I hope to continue progressing and spend many seasons at Atletico Madrid.”
Fran then spoke of our early exit from the Europa League competition, a tournament that we were heavily favoured to win again after lifting the prestigious trophy last season.
“We wanted to continue in the Europa League and we knew we had the ability to do so, but things didn’t turn out well for us,” he said. “We paid dearly for the mistakes we made. Nonetheless, I don’t think the elimination is going to affect us too much.
“We have two competitions left ahead of us and we should give our all in them.”
Simao’s departure to Besiktas should open up more opportunities for Merida to play in 2011, but with the arrival of Elias and a possible replacement for the Portuguese winger expected to be added soon, Fran knows things won’t be so easy.
“There’s so much quality on this team and it’s difficult for the coach to make decisions,” he said. “There’s a healthy competition at all positions. I need to work hard to make things difficult for the manager.
“I want to reach the level that many of my team-mates are at. I’m participating little-by-little in many games, and that’s important.”
Atleti has gone through its traditional ups-and-downs so far this season, but Merida has a hopeful outlook for the rest of the 2010-11 campaign.
“I think we should be happy because we are close to our primary objective of being in the Champions League spots,” he said. “The main thing is that we are in the fight.
“It’s true that in some matches we haven’t been playing at a high level, but in general, the end balance of this first stage of la Liga is a positive one.”
The gifted playmaker has a lot of confidence in his manager’s ability to right the ship after the Christmas vacation.
“There’s always room for improvement on a team,” he said. “In general, the team functions well, although we have made mistakes that have cost us points.
“The coach knows how to read these situations well and surely we’ll improve after the break.”
Finally, Fran directed some words of encouragement to us Rojiblancos.
“I hope the fans have faith in us. I know that at times they get down after certain games that we haven’t played well,” he said.
“We want to give them reason to cheer and get back to the top European competition next year. The fans need to have confidence in this squad; we’ve shown that we’re capable of overcoming difficult moments, like last year when we wrapped things up with three finals in 2010.”
What are your thoughts on Fran Mérida so far? Should Quique use him more often, or is he still too inexperienced?