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San Jose: The Liverpool 'Gerard Pique' they never should have sold?

Former Liverpool academy member Mikel San Jose has enjoyed an excellent season in Spain. Should they regret selling him?

Youth players come and go and its is a rarity rather than a regularity that prospects make it at the big clubs in England, and Mikel San Jose was no different.

Signed by Rafa Benitez from Athletic Bilbao in 2007, he never made a first team appearance, despite being highly rated.

He had impressed with Spain's under-19 European Championship winning side in 2007 which also featured Valencia forward Daniel Parejo.

After being loaned back to Athletic Bilbao in 2009/10 he was bought back permanently two seasons ago for a figure believed to be in the region of £2.5 million.

While this was a profit on a player they picked up for far less and didn't play a game, Liverpool may be entitled to ask themselves if they made the right move in letting him go, or whether the defender was just a victim of circumstance, like Gerard Pique at Manchester United.

Including his loan spell, San Jose has just completed his third full season with Athletic Bilbao, helping them reach the finals of the Europa League and the Copa del Rey.

San Jose didn't start either finals, but he played an important role in Bilbao's successful season, appearing 38 times in total, including eight games in the Europa League, making it more than 100 games in three seasons.

The centre-back is impressing and was linked with a move to Tottenham Hotspur and AC Milan back in April, speculation he batted off while welcoming the compliment.

Now he has just turned 23, and could even feature for Spain at the Olympic games this summer. His attributes include his tackling and passing, a typical Spanish centre-back with steel and class, and even takes penalties.

He played 90 minutes at Old Trafford against Manchester United this season, a game Bilbao dominated and won 3-2 . Liverpool fans will have smiled at seeing a former player get one over on their bitter rivals.

As for whether he should have stayed at Liverpool, the timing was all wrong for him. As a young player he needed game time to develop, and clearly he would not have been afforded the same opportunities as he has at Bilbao, making 100 plus appearances.

Liverpool's defensive trio of Skrtel, Agger and Carragher have been excellent in recent seasons, and any young player would have found it difficult to break into the side. New signing Sebastian Coates has found opportunities tough to come by.

It is similar to Gerard Pique at United, a more heralded talented Spaniard who found it hard to break past the Ferdinand-Vidic partnership and elected to take the comfortable route back to his home country for his own gain.

San Jose too was trying to break through at a tough time for Liverpool which saw Benitez axed and replaced by Hodgson, who in turn didn't last six months.

You can't blame Liverpool for denying the youngster this chance if they were not going to use him, but if Mikel San Jose continues his rise and develops into a full international as expected and carries on impressing for Bilbao, the catch 22 situation is one the Anfield club may go on to regret.

Should Liverpool have given San Jose a chance before selling him?

image: © Ben Sutherland

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