Italian club Napoli have officially announced the departure of Belgium international Dries Mertens after his nine years of association with the club. During his time at the Serie A club, Mertens emerged as the local hero in Naples.
Napoli mark the end of an era following the departures of Lorenzo Insigne to Major League Soccer club Toronto FC, Kalidou Koulibaly to Premier League club Chelsea, and now Dries Mertens, who is the club's highest ever goal scorer.
Watch Napoli's tribute to Mertens:
While talking to an Italian radio station, Napoli President Aurelio De Laurentiis expressed his desire to sign Dries Mertens for another year but couldn't negotiate a contract due to wage issues. He said, "I feel the love for the club, but I must never forget that football is also an industry as well as pure passion. Unfortunately, that means something going against what the fans want.
"When a supporter tells me, why don't you keep Dries Mertens, I can only reply that Mertens offered himself to us for another year, because he knows that he's 35 and then has to retire. If he makes it a matter of cold, hard cash too, then I have to say no. If I have to pay a disproportionate salary to Dries Mertens, that would take money away from the budget of next season, when it will be needed to sign younger players," he concluded.
The 35-year-old Belgian has made the fifth-highest appearances for Napoli with 397 matches and scored a total of 148 goals.