Beñat And Mikel San José Passing The Torch To The Next Generation Of Athletic Midfielders

Benat Unai Lopez Training

Beñat appears to have lost his starting role to Unai López (EC)

For the better part of the last decade Beñat and Mikel San José have been mainstays at Athletic. Trained at Lezama, both have served the club well and embody what it means to truly give your all to represent the Zurigorri. With a combined 612 appearances for the club, their careers have been impressive but at some point they will put on the red and white shirt for a final time.

Both midfielders, along with Mikel Vesga, are entering the final year of their contracts and are the only ones in the team in this situation after Raúl García signed a renewal through 2021. Unlike García, Athletic want to see how Beñat and San José perform this season before deciding whether or not to offer new deals. If the pair continues to play at a high level it’s very likely that they will stay at San Mamés, but it’s not a guarantee at this point.

The future of Athletic’s midfield has been on display this summer. Unai López has dazzled and is believed to have overtaken Beñat for a spot in the starting lineup alongside Dani García. López is still very young and has many of the same qualities as Beñat, making him a natural successor. Gaizka Garitano has made it clear that he’s going to give minutes to the best players and seems to have put his faith in López.

Meanwhile, Oihan Sancet has been one of the revelations of the preseason. Still just 19 years old, he’s proven that he’s ready to compete at the highest level. Sancet has shown maturity well beyond his years and the ability to do absolutely everything in midfield. The Lezama product will split minutes with Bilbao Athletic this season but it’s only a matter of time before he truly breaks into the first team.

Mikel Vesga is also fighting to earn a role in Garitano’s team, though he’s facing a season where he will have to convince the club that his contract should be renewed. Others such as Unai Vencedor and Beñat Prados are on the cusp of being ready for the first team and offer even more exciting potential. This time next year they could be fighting for a place at San Mamés.

Oihan Sancet Arenas

Oihan Sancet is a star in the making (AC)

Since Ernesto Valverde left the club, Athletic have been in need of revitalization. The bulk of the squad hasn’t changed and while some such as Yeray and Iñaki Williams are just entering their prime years, the likes of Beñat and San José are on the downturn. Players like López, Sancet, and Unai Vencedor are very promising young midfielders and ready for their chance to become the new era at San Mamés.

It’s easier said than done. López was given the same opportunity last year but failed to make an impact. Just a few weeks into the season Beñat was back in the starting lineup and San José was used heavily off the bench. The young midfielders aren’t just going to be handed important roles, they must earn them and consistently show that they can carry the burden.

Only time will tell what will happen with Beñat and San José. Both have been used mainly in smaller friendlies this summer with Garitano preferring López and Dani García against the stronger opponents. Beñat and San José are quickly seeing their roles in the team diminished, but that doesn’t mean their time at the club has to end. As veterans, they can still offer a lot to the squad but this season they must prove that they deserve contract renewals.

Athletic must plan for the future, but the most important thing is the present. Garitano has been tasked with leading Athletic back to Europe and will put his faith in the most deserving players regardless of age, experience, or accomplishments. For the Athletic midfield, the future is ready to become the present. Throughout their careers, Beñat and San José formed one of the strongest midfield pairings at Athletic in recent memory. Now the duo has begun to pass the torch to the next generation.

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