Prolific Michu the template for clubs in pursuit of Swansea’s Spanish flair
Soccer Angles: Striker emblematic of what is a golden era of Spanish players
Swansea City’s Michu (left) battles for possession with Crystal Palace’s Mile Jedinak. Photograph: PA
Given the last few weeks on Wearside, Sunderland fans won’t want to hear the following; given their lack of goals in the Premier League so far this season, West Ham fans won’t like it either.
About 14 months ago Sunderland, West Ham and Swansea were the three clubs that had expressed greatest interest in an under-appreciated Spanish midfielder at Rayo Vallecano called Miguel Perez Cuesta, aka Michu.
But while Sunderland and West Ham thought about the benefits of signing Michu, Swansea knew. A player now ranked among the top 10 bargains in British football in modern times moved to south Wales and promptly scored 18 league goals in 35 starts.
Michu also scored Swansea’s second in the League Cup final at Wembley against Bradford City, having previously scored the first in the semi-final first-leg victory at Chelsea. He scored his name elegantly, repeatedly across the Premier League season and is doing so again.
Aged 26, having played for Real Oviedo, Celta Vigo and Rayo – the last club bringing his one top- flight season in La Liga to an end – Michu’s arrival here turned out to be a most pleasant surprise.
Alex Ferguson said he’d never heard of him, and some might criticise Manchester United for that. But then a year before Swansea called, Michu had been an orthodox midfielder at Celta Vigo in Spain’s second division. He scored six goals.
It was the year in between, at Rayo, that transformed him. Rayo’s manager, José Ramon Sandoval, moved Michu further forward. He got 15 goals. Within 12 months Ferguson and the rest of us had heard of him.
Remember how Swansea began last season at sun-drenched QPR with a new manager in Michael Laudrup and a new attacking midfielder? After eight minutes Swansea were 1-0 up and Michu had announced himself afresh. He scored the second that day, too, on the way to a 5-0 walloping that marked Michu as one to watch and QPR as one to avoid.
Smart transfer business
In Swansea’s next match Michu scored against West Ham in a 3-0 win, which would have delighted West Ham’s scouts. And then in the next he produced the equaliser against Sunderland, which would have delighted Sunderland’s scouts.
It was then the phone calls started. Those clubs which pondered, while Swansea acted, were on to agents about the size of the buyout clause in Michu’s contract. He had cost only €2.5 million from Rayo, the skint third club in Madrid, and the price was a slice of his appeal. Even if they had to double or treble that, clubs who consider themselves bigger than Swansea sniffed a bargain.
However, the answer came back that there was no buyout clause. Swansea may be small but it is a sharply-run club. No set clause meant they could negotiate. In an era of player domination, Swansea had a certain influence.
That is in part why Michu is still a Swansea City player and why he will take to the Liberty Stadium this evening against Arsenal, a club said to have coveted him, as a Swan.
It feels like an appropriate nickname: Michu combines disguised power and upright style. The result is smooth effectiveness. He scored both in Swansea’s 2-0 defeat of Arsenal last season.
But for Michu to remain in South Wales there must also be something in his character, because another individual might have reacted differently to the past year. There could have been a head-turning, whispered advice, then a desire to engineer a move. Think Carlos Tevez. Think difficult.
‘Like a gift from heaven’
Instead there was constant application. It took Michu a long and indirect route to reach prominence and it appears he appreciates it all the more. He has been a sincere contributor to the resurrection of his hometown club Real Oviedo and his humility does not seem to be of the manufactured kind seen so often in public life.
He also values the presence of Laudrup in the dugout and the creative freedom he enjoys in Laudrup’s team.
But asking why Michu is still at Swansea also takes you back to Rayo and to Spain’s economy. When Michu joined Rayo after four years with Vigo in the second division, he was a free transfer. This was because (a) he was yet to blossom and (b) because La Liga is bust.
As Michu explained before the League Cup final: “There is no money now in Spain. When Rayo travelled to play Real Sociedad in San Sebastian, the journey on back roads took hours longer than it should have done because the club couldn’t afford the motorway tolls. All the people on the bus were saying, ‘This is crazy, where are we going?’ If we’d known what was happening, we’d have made a collection for the tolls.”
Hence, he added: “Rayo had no money so they sent a letter out saying I was available. Swansea’s £2 million was like a gift from heaven.”
Real Madrid and Barcelona aside, it’s still a financial struggle to simply exist in Spain. Look at Valencia and how Swansea undressed them in the Europa League 10 days ago. Valencia are insolvent.
But Swansea City are not. They had six Spaniards in their team that night, while Valencia had four.
This is a golden era of Spanish footballers, not La Liga, so we will be seeing even more of them in the Premier League due to the economic crisis. Clubs who missed out before are now combing Spain.
And Michu is the template.