It has been an interesting preseason for Mikel San Jose. After being one of the starting midfielders for Athletic over the past few years, the 28-year-old has featured only as a center-back so far this summer. That has mostly been due to necessity with injuries, but fans have still been talking a lot about it. On Thursday, San Jose gave an exclusive interview with DEIA and discussed many different topics. To begin with, he admitted that the preseason has been different under new manager Cuco Ziganda.
“I am alright. It’s true that this is a different preseason than in the last four years. The difference is we have a new coaching staff. There are some differences with the style and some other variations. We are combining a lot of physical training along with ball work. But we have come in with a good dynamic and well prepared. We are looking forward to seeing what this year holds for us. I think we will be fully prepared for next week. With hard work and good preparations there should be no problem. So far they have distributed minutes and all seems good.”
When asked to describe Ziganda, San Jose said that he is never silent and always talking to the players. He highlighted the fact that the manager has built a relationship with every player and he hopes that the Lions can continue qualifying for European competition.
“Every coach is different. Kuko is very energetic. He is constantly talking, helping, correcting…He is never silent. It is a different way of day to day than these past four years. Anything that helps us to improve is welcome. We are very comfortable with him. In addition, he has a relationship with everyone and that is good. I expect, above all, to continue on the same path as these last years. We have become a team that you can trust and known for our competitiveness. We are in a time where it is not easy to qualify for Europe, but it has become expected now and that is what we will try to accomplish.”
San Jose said that there isn’t really uncertainty about his role in the team, but admitted that everyone starts from scratch with a new manager. Everyone now has to fight for their place in the team and he is ready to do that.
“I don’t know if I would call it uncertainty, but it is true that everyone starts from scratch when there is a new coach. From there we all have to work to show that we can be trusted then it is up to the Mister to decide. You have to understand that not all cases are the same. There will be players who already have more confidence from what they have shown. With Ernesto there was a lineup that was defined and now it is open for everyone to fight for a position.”
San Jose did say that Ziganda has told him not to stop thinking that he can play in defense. There hasn’t been a conversation about what role he will play in the team, but he is ready to fight for his place no matter what position he plays.
“Ziganda told me that he does not want me to stop thinking that I can player center-back. If it ends up like that, I will face it with the same desire as always. No matter whether I am in midfield or defense, I’m prepared to contribute all I can to the team. Where do I see myself? Anywhere. I am quite accustomed to midfield and I do feel very comfortable there, but I don’t think there would be any problem playing in defense. If I were to make a change I would fight for my position the same way I had to for the midfield.”
One interesting note from preseason is that Athletic has played without a defined defensive midfielder. San Jose said that Ziganda wants the midfield to be more dynamic and for there to be more freedom to push forward and become a part of the attack.
“He has asked us to make the center of the field dynamic. Other years we have played with a more fixed defensive midfielder and in this case he wants more freedom for the two midfielders to be released forward. We already did it some with Valverde, but Kuko wants the pivots to be more dynamic. We have to grasp it because it may require a major change. The idea is for the defense to tighten up and we have spent a lot of time working on that. This year Vesga has returned after five very good months at Sporting and Ager (Aketxe) finished well at Cadiz. Unai Lopez is a fantastic player too. We are not all the same profile, but we are competing for the same position. The good thing is that the manager has a lot of variety to choose from.”
In closing, San Jose said that it will be nice to go back to Bucharest next week which is where the Lions lost the 2012 Europa League final to Atletico Madrid. He knows that Dinamo Bucuresti is one of the toughest teams that they could have drawn, but he doesn’t think the Romanians wanted to play Athletic either.
“In part it will be nice to go back. We don’t have the most pleasant memories of that city, but I will not regret going back. Bucharest was a very beautiful city until the game started. We would all like to erase that result. When we were last there it was something very big that we couldn’t achieve. Obviously it isn’t the same game, but it is a kind of rematch in a city where we failed. I don’t know much about Dinamo, but I recognize that they are here because they are good. They were one of the most difficult opponents to draw, but I don’t think they wanted us either. This stage is never easy so we must continue to prepare.”
Athletic will be back in action on Friday when they will travel to take on Club Brugge. They will then have one more friendly, against Real Valladolid, before flying to Romania next Thursday for the first leg of their Europa League qualifier. The Lions want to make another deep run in the Europa League and it all starts with conquering the city that let them down back in 2012.