Love at first sight: How Michu left a lasting legacy at Swansea City
After an impressive debut season in the Premier League, Swansea City saw manager Brendan Rodgers move on to Liverpool ahead of the 2012-13 campaign. But another hero was soon to arrive.
Fast forward nine months, and the Swans defeated underdogs Bradford City 5-0 in the League Cup final at Wembley to win their first and only major trophy and book themselves a place in the Europa League.
Michael Laudrup deserves the most plaudits for Swansea’s success, of course, yet it is not Rodgers’ successor who is best remembered from that incredible season but a certain Spaniard, who led the line like no one could have predicted.
An unknown quantity when signed from Rayo Vallecano, Miguel Perez Cuesta, or Michu as he is better known, was the name on everybody’s lips by the end of the season. For a player who many regarded as an underwhelming signing upon arrival, seeing Michu with his winner’s medal after scoring for the Swans in the final was testament to the impression he made in English football.
It was a career that many will look back on with confusion. How could a man who made such an impact on the Premier League in such a short space of time end up playing in the lower depths of the Spanish leagues just a few years later?
But what can never be debated is how, if only for one season, Michu managed to write himself into Premier League folklore and became a name that every football fan will remember.
Described by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, ahead of his side’s December fixture with the Swans, as “a first-class piece of business”, the signing of Michu was initially questioned as Swansea looked to rebuild following the loss of key players including Joe Allen, Scott Sinclair and Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Ferguson himself admitted “I’d never really heard of him” when the Spaniard moved to the Premier League. But a record of 17 goals in 39 games for Rayo Vallecano, a return that made Michu the highest-scoring midfielder in La Liga the previous season, made the £2million fee seem something of a steal.
And what could have been seen at the time as a low-risk gamble was soon looking like one of the best bargains in Premier League history.
A trip to big-spending QPR was first on the agenda for the Swans, where it took just eight minutes for Michu to open his account when his effort from outside the area squirmed under the palms of goalkeeper Rob Green to give his side the lead.
But while this effort was somewhat fortuitous, his second goal eight minutes into the second half was more sublime than speculative.
Receiving the ball from Wayne Routledge on the edge of the area, Michu expertly opened up his body before sending a first-time effort curling past the clutches of Green.
Two goals and an assist in a 5-0 drubbing of their opponents was the start of a fantastic love story.
— Premier League (@premierleague) July 25, 2019
As with a lot of in-form strikers, there often comes a spell in which goals dry up, but that certainly wasn’t a worry for Michu in the first half of the season.
His trademark hand-to-the-ear celebration fast became a weekly sight for Premier League opposition, as Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal soon discovered.
Despite the Gunners’ early-season struggles, a trip to the Emirates provided a difficult task for the Swans, but with Michu up front it was one they navigated with ease.
The Spaniard was at the forefront of an outstanding away showing from Laudrup’s men, netting the opener just two minutes from time with a curling left-footed strike into the top corner before killing the game off, coolly finishing past Wojciech Szczesny to complete an incisive breakaway.
It left Swansea in seventh place, just three points off the Champions League positions, with Michu netting his 10th and 11th goals of the season in the process.
— Premier League (@premierleague) February 21, 2018
Speaking early into the following season, Laudrup said: “I always try to get good deals for players, but Michu must be my best buy because of his importance and the impact he has had and still has on the squad.”
Despite initially being signed as a midfielder, Swansea saw him as the man to play the lone striker role in a 4-3-2-1 formation, which he did to great effect.
As an attacker who didn’t possess express pace, his awareness to make intelligent runs and unlock defences with his technical ability made Michu a frightening prospect to play against during that season.
It was a debut season that saw him net 22 goals in 43 appearances for the Swans, and it was a surprise that it took until October of the following season for Michu to receive his first and only international cap for Spain.
But while his opening season in the Premier League proved nothing short of remarkable, what came next was a devastating tale of woe for the Spaniard as injury after injury meant he struggled to recapture the form that saw chairman Huw Jenkins put a £30million price tag on his name.
While Swansea will be left disappointed that Michu was unable to maintain the form that led them to ninth in the Premier League and to a first major trophy, they can also be left to rue the fact they never received that kind of transfer fee for their overnight star, instead releasing him on a free transfer in 2015.
Following his exit from Swansea, Michu found himself back in Spain at Segunda B side UP Langreo, before ending his career where it began at his boyhood club Real Oviedo. Forced into retirement at the age of just 31 due to injuries, Michu remains with Oviedo where he is currently technical secretary.
Nowadays, whenever the phrase ‘one-season wonder’ is mentioned, Michu’s name is one of the first that comes to mind. But what a season it was.
By Sam Cooke