Mikel San José Sees Brilliance In Starlets Oihan Sancet And Unai Vencedor
Mikel San José has spent the last 11 years playing in the Athletic midfield, amassing 386 appearances and scoring several big goals. As a Lezama product, the 30-year-old knows what it takes to reach the first team and, more difficultly, enjoy a long career at San Mamés. San José’s time at the club could be coming to an end with his contract set to expire in June, but he sees a bright future ahead for the Athletic midfield.
“Oihan (Snancet) is no longer just a player for the future”, San José told Iñaki Ugalde of Mundo Deportivo. “He has a very explosive presence and a lot of quality. In spite of his height, he’s quick and good on the ball. He’s calm and that’s difficult to find. I’m not sure what his ideal position is. He can play as a pivot or further forward. Oihan is an all-terrain vehicle, but he has to polish things and learn that every ball is important here. He will be a player who leaves his mark on an era of this club.”
Sancet isn’t the only promising young midfielder who could soon become a regular face in the first team. Unai Vencedor was also praised by San José, who plays a similar position, as were a number of other starlets currently playing for Bilbao Athletic.
“Unai is more positional than Oihan. He’s more in the role of Dani García, plus he can be a number six. Unai is more static, but he and Oihan compliment each other well. We will see how far he can go, but Unai has a big future ahead. San Bartolomé, Zarraga, Artola who plays more on the wing, Beñat Prados…there are players with a lot of quality coming up but I also think that’s been the case throughout history. I remember Eguaras, Erik Morán, Ager Aketxe, and now Unai López. There’s never been a lack of players, but you can’t have a squad of 50 players.”
Despite making nearly 400 appearances for Athletic, San José doesn’t believe he’s been at the level to be a reference for the next generation. The midfielder says that others such as Iker Muniain and Iñaki Williams are the ones that everyone looks up to.
“I’m a veteran, yes, but I don’t think I’m a reference. Oihan looks more to Muniain and Williams. When we arrived there were very impressive figures for us such as Gurpegui, Joseba, Yesta, and Andoni. I don’t consider myself to be at that level for those who are coming into the team.”
After being a key player in the team for the past decade, San José has only seen the field once this season. Gaizka Garitano has put his faith in other midfielder and San José understands that the manager is doing what he believes to be best for the team as a whole.
“Last year I played almost every game even though I was mostly a substitute. It’s true that this year the coaching staff has made it very clear that they are committed to Dani and Unai. The player closest to Unai is Beñat. Last year we rotated more but this year things are different. The coach is here to decide and he’s been making the decisions that he believes are best for the team.”
Going without chances hasn’t been easy for San José, but the 30-year-old is committed to proving himself and changing the situation moving forward. Trust will play a big factor in the season ahead and the midfielder is confident that he can contribute to the team.
“The only thing I can do is continue working. If I don’t trust myself it’s hard for others to trust me. The coaching staff has confidence in me, although right now they are opting for other options. I’m sure that if he decides to put me on the field one do he will do so trusting me one hundred percent. If I do well, I will surely have more chances. That’s what I’m working for now.”
San José has been the target of criticism over the past two years. He admitted that every player is treated differently by the fans and the important thing is taking correction from the right people in order to improve.
“There are always players that are judged more harshly than others. The important thing is knowing how to take the criticism from people who understand, love you, and tell you things with respect and truthfulness. Those people do it to help you and you realize that, accept it, and at the end of the day you grow.”
As of now, San José isn’t thinking about leaving his boyhood club. The midfielder wants to earn a more important role in Garitano’s team, though he also understands that if things don’t change there will be a real possibility of not being offered a contract renewal at the end of the season.
“I’m not coming to Lezama every day thinking this will be my last year, but the possibility is there because I will finish my contract in the summer and now it’s October and I haven’t been presented with a renewal. The option is there. I’m not having many chances and I imagine that if it continues that possibility will increase. I can think about many things, but right now I only want to continue here. My goal is to fight and show the coach that he can trust me too.”
San José concluded the interview by confirming that he hasn’t received calls from any other clubs about possibly leaving Athletic. Even if he had, he’s not interested in leaving right now. The Lezama product is solely committed to helping Athletic in any way that he can and, hopefully, earning a new contract.
“It’s not my intention in any way to leave in the winter transfer window because I want to be here. The situation is clear, it is what it is, and my contract ends in the summer. We will see what happens then. I come every day with the desire to enjoy it. I’m Navarrese and stubborn. I haven’t had offers from other clubs and it doesn’t matter if I have. I want to finish my contract and, if I see that I won’t continue here, then there is always someone who can call you and may be interested. My idea has always been to stay here for many years. I don’t know if that can happen, but that’s my idea.”
Gaizka Garitano has yet to announce the squad for Saturday’s trip to Madrid but there’s a strong possibility that San José will be left out once again. However, with the Lions set to play three games in one week, the midfielder could finally get an opportunity during rotations. The future is uncertain, but Mikel San José is determined to give his all for Athletic right now with hopes of continuing his career at San Mamés.