Mikel San José: “A step closer to heaven”

Alex, aka AnotherSpanishFan kindly translates an article from Spanish newspaper El Correo giving great insight into behind the scenes in an interview with hot prospect Mikel San Jose…

San José, a step closer to heaven

Mikel San José’s journey to Liverpool began in his birth city, Villaba (Navarra), on a March afternoon in 2007. The central defender, who at the time was playing for Athletic’s Youth A team, managed by Julen Guerrero, observed amusingly as his team-mates were taking part on a match. All of a sudden, his mobile phone rang. ‘œIt was a gentleman, who didn’t reveal his identity but asked me a few questions, one of those being whether I was willing to go play football abroad’. Although his initial instinct was to be cautious and wary, the youngster agreed to a meeting at a Pamplona hotel, where he arrived accompanied by his parents. The same person that was afraid of being identified on the phone showed his face. It was Paco de Gracia, scout for the ‘˜reds’ in Spain. Beside him was Eduardo Macià, former technical secretary at Valencia and current chief scout at Liverpool, where he manages over seventy scouts spread all over the globe.

Macià‘s computer hard disk contains the names of over 10,000 players. San José couldn’t believe it. ‘œThey were very clear since the first moment. They put a very good offer on the table for me to go play with the reserve team’. Curiously, the five-time European Champions offered San José more than what Athletic were proposing to him. ‘œI told them(Athletic) that I had an offer from Liverpool and all they offered me was to go play at Basconia (Third Division). I analyzed the situation and concluded that if I wanted to make it to the first division, it was best for me to leave. At the end, when they realized that my departure was imminent, Txema Noriega (Then director of Lezama (Athletic’s academy) offered me to go play for Bilbao Athletic (Athletic’s B team) but he was still incredulous. It was sort of like saying ‘˜I’m proposing this to you just so you won’t leave, not because I think you can play at that level’.
This is how a player that seemed destined to mark an era playing for the rojiblanca defense fled to Liverpool, where he landed for the first time last August 6th, after winning the U-19 European Championship with Spain. ‘œI was afraid. I was going to be all alone and I didn’t speak the language’¦’

Fast forward ten months and he is closer than he anticipated to making the big leap. In between driving lessons, San José dissects in Villaba his English adventure. It has gone better than expected. Here’s a summary of this past season: he has played every match as a starter, except for the times he’s been claimed to play for Spain, was crowned champion in the Reserves League, has been a part of over twenty training sessions with the first team and he was even part of the team, although he didn’t get to debut, when Chelsea played Liverpool in the Premier.

San José has been living with an older couple with two children who are already married and living on their own. ‘œThey are people of trust of the club and they’ve had other footballers living with them before but now that I can speak English better I’m going to be living on my own’.

From what he says, the principal value of the Liverpool culture is based on effort and an iron-willed character. This was explained to him before his first training session by Antonio Gomez, the physio. ‘œHe approached me and told me ‘˜be ready since the first day because if you fall asleep here you’re going to get kicked from every angle’.

Carragher’s screaming and shouting

Here he mentions one of the biggest differences. In England, nobody saves their energy. ‘œA little training session match is like a Liverpool-Everton at Anfield. In Spain, for fear of injury, people avoid contact. Here if you kick someone, nobody complains. That is why players like Gerrard and Carragher, who come from the academy , are playing in the first team. They always go all out. The mentality at the club is that even if you are very good technically, you still to fight for every ball as if it was the Champions League final’.

Benitez never rests. Every time they cross paths, he has some words for SJ. He insists that Mikel has a weakness that, if corrected, will help unleash all his potential. ‘œHe tells me that I need to be more aggressive, that if I am to play with the first team I can’t be defending like a little girl’.

The ‘˜cracks’ still intimidate him a bit and he keeps his distance, despite the fact that he eats breakfast and lunch with them on a daily basis. And he tells of what seems like a feat for Carragher, the ‘˜capo’ of the defence. ‘œEven when Anfield is packed and everyone is singing ‘˜You’ll Never Walk Alone’, when he screams and shouts instructions to the other defenders, you can hear him from anywhere on the pitch’. Of Gerrard he speaks nothing but good things. ‘œHe says hi to me, although because of my trouble with the language we haven’t practically spoken to each other. One thing is true, he speaks to the English lads on my team on a daily basis’.

With the Spaniards the contact is more frequent. They are not vain or have any illusions of grandeur. ‘œTorres is shy and quite but a good person’. Arbeloa spends all day telling jokes and Reina having a laugh with him. Xabi Alonso has been very important for me. He approached me since the very first day and he’s always giving me good advice’.

Things are going so great that he’s not even thinking about coming back, ‘œdespite that I’ve been an Athletic since little. I didn’t expect to be playing as much or adapting so well. Now it’s not the time to talk about coming back. My goal next season is to debut with the first team and have success there’. If he does, the pain for the rojiblanco supporters will be accentuated because Athletic were not able to value, who some say, could have been the best defender of his generation.