There are some footballers you just never forget. Diego Maradona for his flamboyantly gifted dribbling ability and skill. Zinedine Zidane for the way he controlled and bossed the midfield. Roberto Carlos for his astounding set pieces. Michu for his time at Swansea.
Yes, comparing the Spanish striker with some of the greats mentioned here is slightly over the top although seasons such as the one Michu had in 2012/13 are few and far between. He netted 22 times in all competitions for Swansea and certainly adorned the love of the club’s supporters, may it only have been for a year or so. Nonetheless, in that brief period, through his nonchalant play style, his distinctive aura and simply the way in which he covered his ear with his hand when scoring, the Spaniard made himself someone both Swans fans and the streets will always remember.
The now-36-year-old resides back in his homeland after calling time on his playing days in which he endured a fleeting rise and melancholic fall, turning out for numerous clubs in Spain, England and Italy in a fascinating journey.
Finding His Feet in Spain
Miguel Pérez Cuesta, also known as Michu, came through the academy at Real Oviedo in the North of Spain, initially making nine appearances for the Spanish third-tier side in the 2005/06 and 2006/07 seasons. He scored three goals in this time before making the move to Celta Vigo in the summer of 2007.
In his first season with the club, Michu would make the majority of his appearances for the B team in the third tier of Spanish football, playing 28 times and scoring ten goals whilst also making 14 appearances for the first team in which he scored once in Liga BBVA, the Spanish second tier. From the following campaign onwards, though, the Spaniard would become a first-team regular in Vigo. At 22, he was somewhat of a late bloomer, although from the 2008/09 season until 2010/11, he made 99 appearances for the club. 16 goals scored in this time is not the most impressive although a then 25-year-old Michu would still earn a move to La Liga in the summer of 2011, joining Rayo Vallecano on a free transfer.
With Rayo, Michu began to thrive. He showed shades of his typical forward’s instincts, scoring 17 goals, including a brace at the Santiago Bernabéu in a 6-2 loss, and assisting 4 in 39 appearances in all competitions in the 2011/12 season. These numbers are all the more impressive when you firstly consider Rayo Vallecano finished 15th in La Liga that season and secondly that Michu wasn’t even playing in a traditional number nine role. This was not the Spaniard’s foremost position and for Rayo; he turned out as a second striker, attacking midfielder and left midfielder.
After such an impressive season with Rayo, Michu would then get his big break.
The making of an icon
He joined Swansea City in the Premier League for a fee of £2.3m, linking up with legendary Dane Michael Laudrup in South Wales. Michu was Laudrup’s third signing for the club ahead of his first campaign in charge, with the Spaniard taking the number nine shirt. Wearing this number at any club comes with its pressures, although Michu didn’t let this faze him as he put in a man-of-the-match display on his competitive Swansea debut away at Queens Park Rangers. In the splendid 5-0 victory, Michu scored two and set up another as he disclosed exactly what he could bring to his new team very early on in his time there.
Michu’s first goal in the QPR game saw his first-time snapshot from outside the box sneak under Rob Green in the opposition goal and into the bottom corner with his second being a wonderfully cultured effort into the top left corner after he deftly came on to Wayne Routledge’s lovely through pass. As well as disclosing his goalscoring capabilities, Michu also showed the creative side of his game away at Loftus Road, skilfully flicking it past his man before laying off Scott Sinclair to score Swansea’s fifth of the game. After this spectacular opening day victory, Swansea kept up their hot form as did Michu. The Spaniard scored one and assisted another in a 3-0 home win over West Ham as he was his side’s best player for the second game running.
It is fair to say the Swansea faithful were becoming accustomed to Michu’s signature celebration by this point where the forward would twist his hand over his ear. Granted, it is a slightly peculiar way of marking a goal, but it becomes more understandable when you consider what Michu told the Swansea club website back in 2012:
“It is from my days in Spain. When I was at Celta Vigo in the second division, we played Granada and I missed a penalty. Granada went up that season to the top league, and then I moved to Rayo Vallecano who were also in the top division. In the warm up to that game I could hear the Granada fans shouting ‘Hey Michu, please take a penalty today’. But the game finished 1-0 in our favour and I scored the only goal. So when I scored, I just put my hand to my ear and listened to the Granada support, but they were quiet. It was just a bit of harmless fun with the Granada fans. Of course, now I am at Swansea, but I still like to do the celebration because it reminds me of my journey here.”
This celebration combined with the finesse and flamboyance Michu showed in his play, his distinctive character and even the fact he wore gloves on the pitch on occasion makes him a player who is hard to forget.
He undoubtedly had a unique aura about him which Swansea fans proceeded to adore throughout his time at the club. This love was then furthered as Michu scored for the third Premier League game running against Sunderland in a 2-2 draw, netting an equalising header in the second half to earn his side a point.
He would then go on a run of three games without scoring at the beginning of September although that would come to an abrupt end as Michu scored three in four against Crawley Town in the League Cup and Wigan and Reading in the league. His next goal would come in what was Swansea’s first win away at Newcastle in 32 years as Michu scored a thundering diving header, his third consecutive headed goal.
The Spaniard would fail to net in the following match against Liverpool which ended in a goalless stalemate. However, in the three games following this against West Brom, Arsenal and Norwich, Michu would score five goals. In the 3-1 win over the Baggies, the forward scored the opener yet it was his performance away at Arsenal just three days later which was one of his most iconic moments in a Swansea shirt. Despite being significant underdogs, Michael Laudrup’s men walked away from the Emirates Arena with all three points courtesy of a late Michu brace.
The Spaniard scored two goals of optimum quality to help his side to victory, the first of which came some 88 minutes in. Luke Moore’s first-time ball split open the Gunners’ defence and Michu would adjust his body to come onto it on his left foot and fire past Wojciech Szczesny and into the inside of the side netting. Inevitably, Arsenal would push forward for an equaliser in stoppage time although just one minute into added time, Nathan Dyer’s persistence would send Michu clean through on goal. He had acres of space to run into although the big striker took his time and calmly slotted in at the near post to send the travelling support into raptures.
At this point, Michu was truly at the peak of his powers not just with Swansea, but in his career as a whole; a week after his delightful double at the Emirates, he bagged yet another brace, this time at home to Norwich. Despite a 4-3 defeat, Michu still got on the scoresheet netting twice with an arrowed, first-time finish into the bottom corner and a typical striker’s back post header.
His next goal would come in a 1-1 home draw with Manchester United days before Christmas. After this, Michu would have to wait a fair while for his next league goal. Seven games without netting for the Spanish striker was undoubtedly a barren spell, but he would bounce back in style, scoring twice and assisting once against Queens Park Rangers in a 4-1 home win. Michu seemed to be somewhat of a nemesis for the Loftus Road club throughout his time at Swansea, scoring four goals and setting up a further two in just two appearances and after his second man of the match display against QPR in February 2013, he would score three league goals prior to the season’s end.
A classy, flicked-on header against Spurs was followed by a thunderous first-time finish away at Norwich and in the penultimate game of the 2012/13 Premier League season, Michu netted his eighteenth goal of the campaign away at Old Trafford.
Manchester United had already been crowned champions by this point and this being their final home game of the season meant the league title would be presented post-match. To add to the occasion, it was Sir Alex Ferguson’s last ever home game in charge of the club he managed for 26 years and in typical ‘Fergie time’ fashion, United would snatch a win late on thanks to Rio Ferdinand’s powerful volley, yet because of Michu’s second in two against the Red Devils that season, it looked as though Ferguson’s big day may have been spoiled.
The Spaniard expertly latched on to an inviting cross to score on the volley what was his eighteenth and final Premier League goal of the season. This meant he finished fifth in the goalscoring charts in England’s top flight for the 2012/13 campaign, only behind some highly respected names such as Robin van Persie, Luis Suarez, Gareth Bale and Christian Benteke.
Evidently, Michu’s 2012/13 season turned out to be his best at any club in his career. 18 goals and three assists in 35 league appearances was a wonderful record whilst playing for a club who eventually finished ninth in the table, although it was not just in the Premier League where Michu excelled, but in the league cup also.
Bringing major silverware to South Wales for the first time
After second and third round, last 16 and quarter-final ties in the 2012/13 English League Cup in which Swansea defeated Barnsley, Crawley Town, Liverpool and Middlesbrough – where Michu scored one and assisted another – they faced a two-legged semi-final with Chelsea in February 2013.
Much the underdogs going into the first leg at Stamford Bridge, the Swans pulled off a stunning 2-0 win. Michu opened the scoring 38 minutes in when he curled in at the near post after Jonathan de Guzman won the ball back high up the pitch. Going into the dying embers, Swansea would double their money to take a precious 2-0 lead back to South Wales for the second leg. And in said return tie, a goalless draw meant Brian Laudrup would take his side into the showpiece final at Wembley.
The opposition, Bradford City of League Two, three divisions below Swansea, meant the club had a genuine chance of getting their hands on some silverware and that is exactly what they did. It turned out to be one of the best days in the history of Swansea City Association Football Club as in front a packed 82,597 crowd at the home of English football, they put in a five-star display to win the first (and still only) major trophy in the club’s history.
In the 5-0 win, there were three different scorers and it was only inevitable Michu would net. He had the pleasure of bagging his side’s second of the afternoon, clinically firing into the bottom right corner from just inside the box 40 minutes in. Nathan Dyer and Jonathan de Guzman were the other two players who netted for the Swans with widespread celebrations at full time. The 24th of February 2013 is a day that will live long in the memory of fans of the Welsh club and it is safe to say Michu played his part not just in the final, but in his team’s success throughout the tournament.
Early second season prosperity and European exploits
As a result of Swansea’s League Cup success, they would compete in European football for the first time in 22 years in the 2013/14 season. They entered the Europa League in the third round of qualifying where they would face off against Swedish side Malmo. In the first leg, Michu scored one and assisted another as a 4-0 win practically wrapped up the tie halfway through. His goal that night saw the talismanic Spaniard keep his cool after an error in the Malmo defence to calmly slot in, via the post, with the side of his foot. A 0-0 second leg draw meant Swansea would earn a play-off against Romanian outfit Petrolul Ploiesti.
Similarly to the Malmo games, the tie was almost over by the first leg as Swansea triumphed 5-1 at home. As expected, Michu was on the scoresheet as he stabbed home from close range in the first half yet he also helped to set up Swansea’s fourth and fifth goals in the second 45, crossing for Wilfried Bony and splitting open the opposition defence with a lovely through ball for Alejandro Pozuelo who chipped the ‘keeper. A 2-1 defeat in the second leg eventually saw Swansea through to the Europa League group stages where they would take on Valencia, St. Gallen and Kuban Krasnodar. Before these matches began, though, league action was already underway.
Compared to the previous campaign, it did take Michu a while to get up and running in the Premier League in 2013/14 however in September clashes with West Brom, Liverpool and Crystal Palace, the Spaniard scored two and assisted one. His equaliser in the 2-2 draw with the Reds was a clinical first-time strike into the bottom corner with his goal against Palace being a thunderous right-footed effort which went underneath goalkeeper Julian Speroni.
In the midst of these first few Premier League games of the season was the beginning of the Europa League proper. In Swansea’s opening group game, Michu helped secure a magical moment in his homeland. At the iconic Mestalla Stadium, the attacker’s clever cut-back on the break found Wilfried Bony who fired into the top corner. Michu then doubled the visitors’ lead in the second half, powering in from close range after a well-worked attacking move. The remarkable rout was then completed through Jonathan de Guzman’s free-kick although it was Michu who was the star man in what was only the second-ever victory by a Welsh club over a Spanish one in European football.
This individual performance seemed to catch the eyes of many and just under a month after the majestic win in Valencia, Michu would make his first and only ever appearance for his country. The attacker started and played 56 minutes in a 2-1 win over Belarus in Palma, Mallorca. Following this high, the Spaniard would add to his European goal tally for his club in a 1-1 home draw with Kuban Krasnodar although this would turn out to be his last ever for Swansea.
A Downward Spiral
After netting in the October stalemate with Kuban Krasnodar, a number of issues would affect Michu and cause him to fall out of favour at a club where he had a wealth of prosperity in the 15 months prior. A knee injury kept out him out until December 2013, and he was rushed back from this knock which eventually caused Michu to pick up another problem, this time in his ankle. By the time he recovered from this, Michael Laudrup, who had been Swansea manager throughout Michu’s time at the club, was no longer in charge. Garry Monk was the man in the middle at the Liberty Stadium but the Englishman reportedly wanted rid of the ‘Spanish clique’ in the Swansea dressing room, of which Michu was a part.
This, along with injury and the form of Wilfried Bony, the scorer of 26 Swans goals in 2013/14, was a significant factor in the Spaniard’s eventual loan departure to Napoli in the summer of 2014. A one-year loan move to the Italian Serie A looked as if it would provide Michu with a fresh start although it turned out to be far from that as the attacker made only six appearances for Napoli in his time there, failing to register any goal contributions.
Injury would persist for the Spaniard in Naples with a periostitis issue badly affecting him for the majority of his time in Italy. He would then return to Swansea ahead of the 2015/16 season yet manager Garry Monk would publicly state in July 2015 that Michu would not be part of his squad for the upcoming campaign despite having a year left on his deal. Monk told the South Wales Evening Post:
“He won’t be with the squad this year. I spoke to him at this point last season, he wanted to go and felt that was right for him and I was happy to support him in that decision. I now think we have kind of moved on as a squad. We had a big transition last year.”
Monk’s statement would then come to fruition as Michu joined Spanish fourth-tier side UP Langreo on a free transfer in November 2015 after his Swansea contract was terminated. The move to Langreo was definitely a step down in level for Michu, yet the move makes sense when you consider the club were coached by his brother. The attacker, though, would spend only ten months with Langreo before moving to nearby second division club Real Oviedo.
A then 30-year-old Michu would make 28 appearances in all competitions for Oviedo in the 2016/17 season although similar to his spells at his two previous clubs, the Spaniard would fail to hit the heights of his Swansea days. Three goals across the campaign with Real Oviedo is hardly inspiring and at the end of it, Michu would regrettably call time on his playing days which, it is fair to say, were plagued by injury.
One wonders where the attacker could’ve ended up had it not been for the initial ankle and knee issues he picked up in Swansea which does pose the question of the dynamics of a player of Michu’s style plying their trade in the Premier League. Traditionally, English football is a physically tough place to play and when you look at Michu, although he’s rather tall, he is fairly lean and nimble. But this can’t explain everything.
The effects of settling into a new country and lifestyle, though, are pertinent. It could be argued Michu didn’t suffer badly from this due to how well he did in his early Swansea stages although once he began to spend a lot of time on the injury table, his off-the-pitch life somewhat spiralled out of control. He would reportedly stay up late at night on his games console and come into Swansea’s training centre the next day looking tired and out of sorts with bags under his eyes. This was a rapid fall from grace for Michu and he would sadly never get back to his best.
Early retirement but where is Michu now?
Granted Michu’s retirement at the age of just 31 did come as a shock to many, it is understandable when you consider the turmoil he was going through. Injury had plagued him for a number of years prior to hanging up his boots and it was a recurring ankle issue which eventually caused the Spaniard to retire. Indeed, a spokesperson for the player got in touch with the BBC following the announcement of Michu’s final withdrawal from the beautiful game:
“The current state of Michu’s right ankle makes it ‘very difficult for him to take part in any sport,’ said the champion. He now finds it impossible to continue his profession as a footballer. After seeking medical advice, he has decided to abandon the sport. He will instead pursue a career in coaching football.”
It is said here that Michu would look to go on to coaching and in 2018, he was appointed Sporting Director of UP Langreo’s B side. In this off-the-pitch role, the Spaniard would last nine months before joining yet another one of his former clubs. He became Team Coordinator at Real Oviedo, where he spent just seven months before transitioning into his current role in December 2019.
Now, Michu is Sporting Director at Northern Spanish side Burgos CF and in his first season there, the club were promoted to the Spanish second division, a league they continue to compete in to this day. At 36, it will be intriguing to see the direction in which Michu’s post-playing career heads as it is fair to say the Spaniard is of a fairly young age for his role. Already at a club in the Spanish second division, one imagines he could go quite far in the world of off-the-pitch dealings after a rather prosperous career on it.
Reflecting on what could’ve been
A rise and fall such as the one Michu endured in his career leaves one wondering where the attacker could’ve ended up had it not been for the initial ankle and knee injuries he picked up in Swansea. The question of the dynamics of a player of the Spaniard’s style plying their trade in the Premier League is then posed as a result of this. The effects of settling into a new country and lifestyle are pertinent. It could be argued Michu didn’t suffer badly from this due to how well he did in his early Swansea stages although once he began to spend a lot of time on the injury table, his off-the-pitch life somewhat spiralled out of control. Nonetheless, had Michu kept up his fitness and resultant form, his move to Swansea may have gone down as one of the biggest bargains in Premier League history.
In today’s world, it is rather difficult for clubs to sign players for the fee the Spaniard was brought to South Wales for due to several factors such as inflation and teams having much wider scouting networks and data available to them. Michu was certainly one of a dying breed.
List of sources