Mikel San José’s Crucial Role Under Gaizka Garitano
Athletic aren’t the same team that they were under Eduardo Berizzo. After promoting Gaizka Garitano back in early December the Lions have undergone massive improvements and have quickly become one of the best sides in all of La Liga. The Mister has managed to bring out the best in players like Yuri Berchiche, Iñigo Martinez, and to some extent Iñaki Williams. However, there is one player who is flying under the radar and deserves praise – Mikel San José.
The 29-year-old was one of the most criticized players last year, and with good reason. His performances under Kuko Ziganda was very poor, although he was being played in a position that exposed his weaknesses and didn’t take advantage of his strengths. Just a few years removed from representing the Spanish National Team it couldn’t be that the midfielder had digressed so far.
Earlier this season San José was one of the few players who did an admirable job in Berizzo’s system. He was asked to play in a more familiar role when on the pitch, but since the arrival of Garitano he appears to have rediscovered his best form. Athletic have played in 14 games since the managerial change and San José is the only one to have featured in every single match. There’s a reason for that.
San José has played a crucial role under Garitano. For the most part he’s been used as a substitute to add defensive muscle to the midfield, which was the case against Eibar on Saturday. When doing so he’s played at a very high level and helped shut down opponents from being able to create chances. However, he’s been more than just the first person off the bench.
When Dani García or Beñat have been unavailable Garitano has turned to San José to fill their place. Every time the 29-year-old has done well. At times he’s acted as the more offensive midfielder in the double pivot, with Beñat out, and he’s shown the ability to get involved in the attacks. Other times he’s functioned as the anchor in front of the back line, normally when he’s in for Dani García, and has had no problems finding success.
Garitano has something of an X-factor in Mikel San José, a player who can function well in multiple roles and is happy to do so. Whether it’s aiding the forwards, protecting the defenders, or simply adding strength in the midfield he’s doing it all at a high level and has been a big part of Athletic’s success over the past few months. The struggles of last season are long gone.
Mikel San José still has one year left on his contract with Athletic, although that could change. If he continues to play at this level and keeps the confidence of the manager there is no reason to believe that he won’t be offered an extension. The Lezama product won’t turn 30 until the end of May so he still has a lot of football left ahead of him. Right now the important thing is that San José is back to playing his best football and that’s a wonderful thing for Athletic.