He was not talking about the league's top scorer, Karim Benzema, or Luka Modric, its only remaining winner of the Ballon d'Or.
He was not referring to one of Barcelona's dazzling young talents like Ansu Fati or Pedri, or even the 34-year-old Luis Suarez, who a few months before had won the title for Atletico Madrid.
And if there was any suspicion he had been momentarily carried away, swept into hyperbole in the joy of victory, a month later Imanol hammered home the point.
"I said it before and I'll say it again in case it's not clear," he said.
"Mikel Merino is the best player in La Liga."
By then Real Sociedad were no longer trailing Real Madrid but above them, a win over Osasuna leaving them top of the table for a fourth week in a row.