Mikel San Jose Dominguez arrived on Merseyside at the end of the 2006/07 season from Athletic Bilbao. The Basque player progressed through the youth ranks at the La Liga club and became a regular in the youth B team before moving to the A team in 2006. Generally used as a centre-back, San Jose can also play in midfield and is somewhat known as a utility player and during his season with the Bilbao reserve team he played 27 times and scored 5 goals during 2006/07.
San Jose was also now becoming a prominent part in the national team youth setup and played an important role for Spain at the back during their successful campaign to lift the UEFA European U-19 Championship in the summer of 2007. At the tournament, he caught the eye of Liverpool’s scouts and an offer was made to the young Basque defender to join the Merseyside club. It was going to be a difficult decision for the then 18 year old to leave his childhood club to move to new surroundings in a new country. He however accepted a three year contract to join Liverpool and the Spanish defender had great ambitions on his arrival at Anfield:
It was a surprise for me but I have decided to accept the chance at Liverpool. I am very excited but now I know that I have to work more each day to get in the first team.
During his two years at the club, San Jose has impressed in the reserves. At 6ft 1, he is an ideal height for a defender and he can also be a threat at set pieces in the opposition penalty box. Now 20 years of age at the start of this season, it was clear to Rafa Benitez and his backroom staff that the young defender needed to gain experience before making any first team appearances for the Reds. He had been an unused substitute in an away match against Chelsea in February 2008 but that was a close as San Jose had got to first team action.
Liverpool decided to accept a loan offer from San Jose’s previous club Athletic Bilbao at the start of this season in the hope the Spaniard would gain invaluable first team experience in a top European league such as La Liga. Initially though, the loan move seemed to be a massive mistake. San Jose was left out of the first team eleven for the best part of four months and until the start of November, had only featured in seven minutes for Bilbao in the first team. Unrest from the player was clear and it was suggested by his agent that the loan move would be shortened from the end of the season to only January. Jesus Medina stated:
His patience is being pushed and if nothing chances he will leave Bilbao in the New Year, we do not understand Bilbao’s persistence to strike a deal over the summer if they had no plans to play San Jose. This situation is damaging to his career. He is a professional and does not want to cause controversy, but he is suffering at the moment.
The calibre of the player was shown by the initial interest from two Premier League clubs in Wolves and Blackburn, but San Jose’s fortunes have turned around in the last month. He has started Bilbao’s last four games, scoring on his first start against Austria Vienna in the Europa League, following it up with a powerful header against Zaragoza in a league game two weeks ago. Four starts, and two goals, is certainly an impressive start to his time in Spain, and if he does continue on his current form until the end of the season, Bilbao may just want to sign him on a permanent deal. The promise he showed in his early career looks like it is about to be realised though, and Benitez may well want to keep the player. The next few months in Spain will no doubt indicate both San Jose’s abilities and what club he ends up at next season.