Rafa Benitez has revealed why Mikel Merino decided to leave Newcastle United.
The midfielder – who has a release clause in his St James’s Park contract – is set to join Real Sociedad in his native Spain.
Merino only joined Newcastle last year from Borussia Dortmund, where he had found first-team opportunities hard to come by.
The 22-year-old found himself in a similar predicament at United after returning from a back injury midway through the club’s Premier League campaign.
“It was a pity, because obviously he wanted to play more football,” said Benitez.
“He’s a young player, and he struggled to get back into the team, because (Mohamed) Diame and (Jonjo) Shelvey were doing so well.
It was a pity, because obviously he wanted to play more football. He’s a young player, and he struggled to get back into the team, because (Mohamed) Diame and (Jonjo) Shelvey were doing so well.Rafa Benitez
“That meant Merino didn’t get much gametime, then we had three or four Spanish clubs who were interested in him.
“In the end, it was something we couldn’t control, because he decided to go.
“We knew that could happen, so we had to be prepared – and in the end we were.”
United signed free agent Ki Sung-yueng, released by Swansea City, to replace Merino.
Asked what South Korea captain Ki would bring to his team, Newcastle manager Benitez said: “He will bring experience.
“He has experience in the Premier League, he has quality. Mikel was a young player with great potential, but now we have a player who has been there before.
“When we first signed Mikel, people forget that the reason we got him from Borussia Dortmund was because he had this condition too – he had a release clause which he could use if he was not playing as much as he wanted.
“In this case we did that. He was playing really well for us, and I was really pleased with him at the beginning of the season.
“After he had the injury, when he went two months without playing, he played less and after Jonjo and Diame did really well.
“But that is football – and we move on.”