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Imanol Alguacil is clear about it and expressed it in a press conference a few weeks ago: “Mikel Merino is the best player in LaLiga”. The Real Sociedad coach arrived at the club in January 2018 and Merino did the same in July of that same year. Since then they have lived together four seasons in which the Real society it has grown to rank among the best teams in LaLiga and Europe. At this second national team break, the ‘txuri-urdin’ team occupies third place with 17 points, as do Real Madrid and Atlético, first and second, respectively. And the great performance of those from Donosti is due to the hand of Alguacil and also to the football progression of the Navarrese player.
Mikel Merino is 25 years old and, despite his young age, his career in elite football is not small: he debuted with Osasuna in 2014, in the Second Division, and he experienced a promotion with the rojillo team a year later. Later he signed for the Borussia Dortmund of the Bundesliga and a year later he was playing in the Newcastle of the Premier League. Four very intense seasons – from 2014 to 2018 – where he lived both sides of football, also the worst or less good, and which have helped him grow as a footballer and apply those experiences now at Real Sociedad.
THE TOTAL FOOTBALL PLAYER
Those moments helped him to mature and back in Spain he has shown it with Real Sociedad since his arrival in 2018. The one from Pamplona has always been branded as a total player, that able to cover a wide field, have a great physique and an impeccable technique with the ball. Merino combines all the characteristics that are required of a footballer today, because in addition he is intelligent on the pitch and has a clairvoyance with and without the ball worthy of the best ‘players’ in LaLiga.
For all this he has become a standard in Real Sociedad, elected captain in his second season in San Sebastián. Merino is a benchmark player both on and off the pitch. For example, footballers like Oyarzabal and For your, who like to run and play in spaces, appreciate having a teammate like Mikel, constantly on the move and able to see gaps with ease and pass several rival defensive lines with a pass.
Imanol Alguacil has grown and established the characteristics of a footballer who plays and makes his teammates play. Build and distribute. Sort the team from creation. Know when to save position and how to get to the area to create danger. He has started the first eight days of LaLiga this season and no one disputes his impact on the Real Sociedad game.
THE CALL OF THE SELECTION
Faced with such influence it was impossible that the jump to the senior team did not reach. It has been a long process and, perhaps, somewhat late – it debuted on September 3, 2020 – given its trajectory. At the moment he has played nine games under Luis Enrique – six from Nations League, two qualifying for the Qatar 2022 World Cup and a friendly – and in recent months it is when it is gaining more relevance.
But we must not forget that in the lower categories he has been a fixture for years. U19 European Champion, rose to the U21, where he played a European, and this past summer he was present at the Olympic Games in Tokyo 2021.
In this last stoppage for selections Mikel Merino does not rest. Luis Enrique summoned him to play the ‘final four’ of the Nations League and played a few minutes in the 1-2 victory against Italy that gave Spain a pass to the final. One more leap in Merino’s career that shows that has found the stability necessary to progress personally and as a team, and making itself known in a Spanish league that is still able to retain talent.