Full name: Francisco Mérida Pérez
Squad number: 16
DoB: 4 March 1990
Buyout clause: Unknown
Previous clubs: Arsenal (2007-10), Real Sociedad (2007-08 on loan)
Fran Mérida is one of Atlético’s brightest prospects for the future. At just 20 years of age the Spanish starlet has his whole career ahead of him and having just returned to Spain after a couple of seasons under the wing of Arsène Wenger in London, he’s ready to prove he can make the step up.
Mérida rose through the youth system at Barcelona along with other stars Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique, but the youngster’s parents were uneasy about the vast quantity of top youth players rising through the ranks at the Camp Nou, and got in touch with Fabregas’ agent who engineered a move to Arsenal.
The midfielder signed a professional contract with Arsenal shortly after his 17th birthday and went straight into the youth setup alongside other promising youngsters including Carlos Vela, and was limited to appearances in the English League Cup, where Arsenal traditionally field a youth side.
Arsene Wenger was proud to have Mérida at the Emirates and praised the young Spaniard as ‘an absolutely amazing player’, yet still not good enough for the Arsenal first team. In January 2007, he went on loan to Real Sociedad, making 14 appearances in the second half of the season, gaining valuable first team experience.
Mérida returned to London for the 2008/09 season and again played regularly in the League Cup squad, making his Premier League debut through his bit-part role in the first team.
In the 2009/10 season Fran was expected to play his biggest role yet, but again featured the most in the League Cup, playing well and setting up goals for the team. Wenger looked keen to commit Mérida to a new contract with the youngster’s deal ending in the summer of 2010, and in November 2009, Arsenal announced that a verbal agreement was in place but had yet to be signed.
Six months later, the deal still wasn’t sealed and speculation began to surface that Mérida wanted to leave the Emirates and return to Spain.
Atlético president Enrique Cerezo confirmed that los Rojiblancos were interested in the young midfielder and stated that “the decision rests with the kid because he is free in June.”
On 28th May 2010, Atlético Madrid announced that Fran Mérida was to join the club after rejecting the offer of a new contract from Arsenal at the end of the season.
Upon arriving at the Vicente Calderon, Mérida revealed himself to be a boyhood Atlético fan.
“I feel enormously proud to be here. As soon as I knew Atletico were interested, I didn’t think twice.”
Hopes were high for the midfielder in the Vicente Calderón, but Fran mostly featured from the bench and failed to impress in his first season back in Madrid.
In the summer of 2011 Atlético decided to send Mérida on a season long loan to Braga.