Mikel San José of Athletic Bilbao and Spain U23

12 Mar

22-year old Mikel San José is showing signs of becoming a good international quality defender. Picture taken from

Athletic Bilbao players are improving fast under the guidance of Marcelo Bielsa and amongst those getting play time in the side of Bielsa is a young centre-back named Mikel San José.

22-year old who was born in Pamplona was part of Bilbao’s academy at young age, but spent 3 years of his career in the youth and reserve teams of Liverpool before moving back to his old club.

Since 2009 he has been a starter for Bilbao and he has had a good season so far and he is attracting the interest of some top teams of Europe.

Report on Mikel San José

Personal Information (according to

Name: Mikel San José Domínguez
Date of Birth: 30.05.1989 (age 22)
Nationality: Spanish
Height: 186 cm
Current Club: Athletic Bilbao (contracted until 30.06.2015)
National Team: Played in Spanish U23, U21 and U19 teams

Playing Information:

Position: Central defender
Preferred Foot: Right

Statistics For Last 3 Seasons (according to

2011/2012: Athletic Bilbao / Spain U23 – 29 games, 3 goals, 1 assist, 5 yellow cards, 1833 minutes played
2010/2011: Athletic Bilbao / Spain U21 – 38 games, 3 goals, 1 own goal, 10 yellow cards, 1 red card, 3230 minutes played
2009/2010: Athletic Bilbao / Spain U21 – 32 games, 3 goals, 1 own goal, 1 assist, 10 yellow cards, 2658 minutes played

Games Watched To Make The Report:

1. Athletic Bilbao – Real Sociedad 2:0 (Liga BBVA, 04.03.2012)
2. Manchester United – Athletic Bilbao 2:3 (Europa League, 08.03.2012)
3. Osasuna – Athletic Bilbao 2:1 (Liga BBVA, 11.03.2012)

Key Individual Match Statistics (

1. 45 passes (73% success rate); 5 long balls (accurate: 1); 1 tackle; 2 interceptions; 6 clearances (effective: 2); 1 shot blocked; 1 foul (1 yellow card); 1 shot taken (on target: 1); dispossessed 1 time
2. No detailed statistics
3. 42 passes (63% success rate); 6 long balls (accurate: 2); 3 tackles; 4 interceptions; 9 clearances (effective: 3); 0 shots blocked; 0 fouls; 1 shot taken (on target: 0); dispossessed 2 times

San José is strong in the air, but bit slow against the faster forwards.

Analysis of San José’s Performances:

San José is a player who seems to have good understanding of his shortcomings. Bielsa’s high energy tactics require a lot from his defenders and San Jose will be well prepared to play at high pace if he should go to a big team.

He was decent in the games I watched him in, but he was still a distance off the best defenders in European football. He doesn’t mess up, but he doesn’t have the ability to completely nullify players either – or to put it simply, he doesn’t do anything special.

Strong in the air, struggles on the ground

San José is a strong defender with a good physical presence in the box, I don’t remember him getting beaten even once in the air, although in fairness, there weren’t too many real challengers either. Osasuna’s two goals were from headers and San José was thereabout when Raul Garcia scored the 2:0 goal, but it was rather the mistake of another player defending against Garcia.

On the negative side, he is not the fastest of player. He can just about keep up with the faster forwards running with the ball, but sometimes he is forced to make a tiny pull or use his strength a bit excessively in order to slow down opponent. But to praise him, he does get close enough to do that, he does it in safe areas with no big recuperations and it is better that he gives away the little foul rather than let the player go.

His statistics also seem to indicate that he has gotten more intelligent with his fouling over the past years with his yellow card amount on the course for a slight decrease this season.

He doesn’t slide into tackles too often and prefers to stand tall, not rush into winning the ball. This I feel to be  useful in most situations. He was poor in the case of Manchester United’s first goal against Athletic Bilbao where he did slid into a challenge on the edge of the area and failed to get the ball away from Ryan Giggs, who passed it to Javier Hernandez, whose shot was saved, before Wayne Rooney tapped in.

When he is forced to defend one on one, he is often side-stepped or burned for pace if he doesn’t stand very far off the player. But standing far off is a problem, it allows opponent a lot of time to make a pass and at times also opens up an angle for a shot, this is something which happened against Osasuna for example, when he allowed one curling shot from the edge of the area which went just a bit wide.

His reading and positioning skills are solid for his age and with more experience, he should become even more intelligent to make up for his speed issues. He doesn’t get caught out of position and he has the awareness of what to do – for example he managed to force opponents to non-dangerous areas when defending during counter-attacks.

Comfortable on the ball

One sign of a Bielsa trained defender is that San José does try to pass the ball out of defence and doesn’t smash it forward. He is very calm on the ball.

In the latest games his passing success ratio has been quite poor, but over the course of the season it has been a bit better. Still, I could see he’s not entirely comfortable when passing and sometimes he takes poor quality efforts which tend to bobble and are not easy for a team-mate to control. His long balls and clearances are often aimless and far from precise.

Finishing with his technical assessment, his running on the ball seemed a bit awkward and uncomfortable. Once he tries to break forward the ball tends to get stuck under his feet or goes half a yard too far in front of him, forcing him to make an unprecise pass or putting the ball out.

What level do I think he is:

He is a good defender, I like him and I think he does the minimum of what you expect from a defender of a team challenging for a Champions League spot.

And when you consider he’ll only turn 23 in the end of May, then you’d have to say he could even be considered to be amongst the better young defenders in Europe.

With most top teams have aging defenders or quite erratic youngsters, he could be quite a useful addition.

What level do I think he could reach:

I imagine that he’ll improve quite rapidly and could have a real break-through season within next couple of years, depending on where he is playing.

His speed is not that big a problem because he seems to be an intelligent defender who might learn how to get around this problem by using his strength and becoming better at reading opponents.

Young defender like him needs to be in a team that can offer a calm working environment with no instant pressure. At this moment Athletic Bilbao can offer it and if they get to Champions League for next season, he should definitely look to stay there.

If I had to pay 10 million euros rating: 5/10

A good rating for a young defender. He is not a 10 million euro defender just yet, but will probably become one worth more. Could even give him a 6/10 rating, but with defenders the risk is always quite big and depends a lot on the manager I’d have in charge of the team I’m buying him into.

I think he’d fit well into Premier League for example if he was to move in from Athletic, but I see him doing well in other top leagues outside of Spain too, once the language barrier has been overcome.


Posted by on March 12, 2012 in Big Reports


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2 responses to “Mikel San José of Athletic Bilbao and Spain U23

  1. Athletic Offside (@AthleticOffside)

    March 12, 2012 at 20:09

    What do mean ‘if he should go to a big team’? – he is at a big club!

  2. Tanel Tursk

    March 12, 2012 at 20:17

    True, it is difficult to understand how big a team Athletic Bilbao is for people like San José, a slightly different scenario than say moving from Udinese to Inter.

    We’ll see where Athletic moves in next years, how they keep this side together and will Bielsa continue to drive this side forward. I’m sure at one point these players will think that now I want to win some titles and that is what I mean by big team, a team for whom Champions League qualification is a must rather than something they hope to get. I think Bilbao due to it’s special nature has got decent potential to be a side that will have success, but then again this special nature might prevent it from becoming one – but I’m sure Athletic would rather keep it’s idenity than get 4-5 foreign stars in order to win one title.


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