Napoli's Mertens better than Higuain, says De Laurentiis

Club president Aurelio De Laurentiis spoke of his pride as Napoli prepare to take on Real Madrid and hailed Dries Mertens' contribution further than what former player gave.

Club president Aurelio De Laurentiis

Higuain offered goals and no more

Dries Mertens has more quality than Gonzalo Higuain, according to Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis. The Napoli chief is still reeling from the controversial €90 million sale of Higuain to Serie A rivals Juventus last year.

But an emotional De Laurentiis has been thrilled with the response of his side this season as they prepare to take on Real Madrid in the Champions League last 16 on Wednesday on the back of an 18-match unbeaten run. And the stunning form of Mertens, who has 20 goals in 29 appearances, has prompted De Laurentiis to believe he has a better player than he did in Higuain.

"In terms of quantity, Higuain is better because he scored more - but in terms of quality, assists and altruism, I choose Mertens," he said to Sky Italia ahead of the first leg at Santiago Bernabeu. He is far more generous than Pipita. He never gets grumpy at anyone else's errors, only for his own."

Manager gets presidential approval

Maurizio Sarri has also impressed De Laurentiis, with the president feeling vindicated after the criticism his head coach received early in his reign. De Laurentiis said: "Sarri's football is spectacular, but it can also be risky with some nasty surprises.

"More than winning trophies, it is better to have intellectually honest paladins like Sarri"

"At times our style of football can also lead us to get thumped, but we hope that it happens to the opposition instead. I chose Sarri and took on the responsibility of that pick even when some were protesting. Winning a trophy means nothing to me. It is better to have some intellectually honest paladins like Sarri."

Napoli making huge progress

De Laurentiis feels Napoli's first meeting with Madrid for 30 years is a sign of the club's astonishing progress since their 2004 bankruptcy.

"History is being made," he added to Corriere dello Sport. "It surely means something if we have never met in the last 30 years. The fact we are here now after seven years in a row in Europe - and after we also took on the likes of Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea - means that we have achieved continuity.

"Now the time has come where we have reached the highest point. We challenge the greatest, those who have a budget with which we cannot compare, a budget so many times higher than ours. But we will do it by force of our ideas, the ones which have brought us here.

Juventus' Gonzalo Higuain used to be a hero in Naples.

"I have always been proud of what we have done. This match simply underlines how huge our explosion has been. I think back to players who played at Napoli, from Ezequiel Lavezzi, to Edinson Cavani, to Higuain and also to those who we have now, who are giving us joy."