Remember Michu? Swansea’s bargain cult hero who took the Premier League by storm, only to swiftly fall into obscurity and retire at the tender age of just 31?
‘A first-class piece of business,’ Sir Alex Ferguson opined of the striker, admitting he’d ‘never really heard of him’ before he moved to south Wales in the summer 2012. That’s fair enough, Fergie – most hadn’t.
You could no longer say that after his barnstorming first season, in which he scored 22 goals, helped his side win the League Cup and won plaudits for his flamboyance and skill.
His goalscoring exploits saw him hailed by Ferguson, inspire Erling Haaland, and capped by World Cup holders Spain. Two years later, he was playing for a Spanish amateur side for free.
So what was behind his rise and rapid fall? Just how good was Michu? And what’s he doing now? Sportsmail gives you the lowdown on the forgotten man the streets will never forget…
Swansea signed Miguel Perez Cuesta, or Michu, from Spanish side Rayo Vallecano for just £2million in July 2012 – he scored 22 goals in his first season and became a cult hero at the club
Iconic Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson called it ‘a first-class piece of business’
The flamboyant striker was capped once by the Spanish national side after his Swans exploits
Born in the Asturias region in north-western Spain, Michu broke through at boyhood side Real Oviedo.
After four seasons – two in the fourth tier, two in the third – he earned a move to second-division Celta Vigo. His first two campaigns were unremarkable, 42 appearances and just two goals. Then things clicked.
A tall, slender player at 6ft 1in, the Spaniard – who often played in attacking midfield rather than up front – then cemented a spot in the first team.
He attracted Swansea’s attention after scoring twice for Rayo in a 6-2 loss against Real Madrid
He helped Celta finish sixth and scored in the play-off first leg against Granada, but missed a spot-kick in the second leg shoot-out and his side was knocked out 5-4 on penalties. It was his last action for the club.
Michu signed for LaLiga new boys Rayo Vallecano and caught fire, netting 15 in 37 in his first ever top-flight season, including eye-catching doubles against Real Sociedad, Racing Santander, Osasuna, and Real Madrid.
The Premier League beckoned.
A STRATOSPHERIC RISE
Swansea, renowned for their modern, attacking style of play under Michael Laudrup, snapped him up for a bargain £2m fee in July 2012.
Nominally signed to replace loanee Gylfi Sigurdsson as a central attacking midfielder in a free-flowing 4-2-3-1 formation, Michu – who took the No 9 shirt – started playing as a striker and did so well he just carried on.
According to team-mate Nathan Dyer, Laudrup said: ‘Wherever he is on the pitch, just pass him the ball.’ The response of Dyer, and others, was: ‘Oh right, we’ve got a Messi on our hands, have we?!”
Before his first game, Angel Rangel warned him ‘there are no easy away games in the Premier League’. He promptly scored twice, hit the bar, and helped set up two more in a 5-0 win against QPR.
Then-Swans boss Michael Laudrup (above) created the environment for the forward to thrive
The second, in particular, was a pearler: running onto a Wayne Routledge through ball and passing it into the top corner past Rob Green with the almost disrespectful casualness of an adult having a kickabout in the park with several toddlers.
‘Incredible,’ said Michu about that day, played in front of his dad Jose Luis Perez Rodriguez, who never missed a game, at Loftus Road. ‘It was like a dream’.
Michu, a proud Asturian fan, had turned down a move to LaLiga side Sporting Gijon in 2010 because they were Oviedo’s rivals. Top tier, lucrative five-year contract? Didn’t matter to him. At the time, he was told he would never get a chance like that again.
His trademark celebration, putting his hand to his ear, was a nod to those critics. It was a well-known sight in England that season – by the turn of the year, he was the top scorer in the Premier League.
HOW GOOD WAS HE?
His 13 goals by the end of 2012 saw legendary Manchester United manager Ferguson hail the club’s outstanding business and question his own scouting department.
Despite being rated at £30m and linked with big-money moves away, Michu signed a new four-year deal in January 2013, ending the season with 18 league goals in 35 games, 22 in all competitions, and bagging the club’s and supporters’ Player of the Year awards.
Michu scored in Swansea’s famous 3-0 Europa League win against Valencia at the Mestalla
He was no flat-track bully, with goals against Chelsea, Liverpool, United, Arsenal and Tottenham. You need to watch the YouTube compilation of all his Swansea goals to get a real sense of his talent, though.
There’s the first-time outside-the-box thrashed finish against Crawley, the diving headers and scruffy tap-ins. The two against Arsenal. The first, opening his body up like Thierry Henry and guiding it into the far corner.
The second with ridiculous composure: played through one-on-one, he slows to almost walking pace, waiting for the chasing Tomas Rosicky to catch up the nearly 40 yards to him, before coolly planting it past Wojciech Szczesny.
An unreal outside-of-the-foot volley against Manchester United at Old Trafford, another in Swansea’s magnificent 3-0 Europa League victory away at Valencia.
And the strike against Bradford, nutmegging a defender with a snap shot, the second goal in a 5-0 win at Wembley to help Swansea win their first ever League Cup.
At times, with his unkempt mop of hair – he was nicknamed ‘Shaggy’ – and elegant, languid style, he looked like the friend of a friend who turns up to your Sunday league match at half-time, scores a 10 minute hat-trick and subs himself off.
Michu inspired Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland (left), one of the best strikers in the world
The Spaniard sent a signed shirt to Haaland, to which the hotshot replied ‘Wow what a legend!’
But that underplays his strapping physicality and his relentless desire to score, win and prove people wrong. Borussia Dortmund star Haaland, now one of the best strikers in the world, admires him for a reason.
Although Michu humbly suggested being tall and left-footed were the only similarities between them, they also share impeccable timing and pure ball-striking ability, aesthetically pleasing like Dimitar Berbatov, ice-cold like Sergio Aguero.
His best feature, though, was his timing. In Spanish, they call it ‘Llegada’. Frank Lampard had it too. The knack of arriving in the penalty area at just the right time, late enough so defenders won’t pick you up. And then the one-touch finish when you’re there too.
Spain saw his talent. The Spain of legends like Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Iker Casillas; the Spain who had just won a World Cup sandwiched by two European Championship titles, called him up for a World Cup qualifier against Belarus in October 2013.
The team that day: Victor Valdes, Alvaro Arbeloa, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Nacho Monreal, Xavi, Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva, Pedro, and Michu. Not bad.
Afterwards, he celebrated with a Big Mac in the changing room, beaming with pride. Sadly, from that point he would only score one more goal for Swansea: it was only downhill from there.
A SOBERING DECLINE
A troublesome injury on his right ankle, caused by the relentless schedule, saw him have four operations at three clubs, and trying to manage it with painkillers and injections. Nothing worked.
He could not join up with Spain again in November, he was playing through the pain for Swansea, who sacked Laudrup after six defeats in eight games, and only scored two league goals in the 2013-14 season.
After Michu’s retirement, legendary former Swansea striker Lee Trundle paid tribute to him
Seeming disinterested, or at least discontented, former Swansea winger Leighton James said: ‘Even before he was injured last season he was giving out the impression that he didn’t want to be here,’ with Jonjo Shelvey also suggesting his mental state was affecting his performances.
He told The Beautiful Game podcast: ‘Michu was their main guy, in terms of goals and that. Then Wilfried Bony signed. That knocked the stuffing out of him and after that it didn’t really work out for Michu.
‘We had these bands which show how much you are sleeping. On one graph it showed Michu was sleeping for three hours a night. He was coming in and his eyes were drowsy and puffy, it turned out he was just up playing PlayStation until like 4 o’clock in the morning… He sort of disappeared off the face of the earth.’
By the end of the campaign, Swansea were willing to let him go. Napoli signed him on loan, but he only played 229 minutes without a goal across another miserable year. Eventually, the Welsh side released him in November 2015, 18 months after his last appearance in Swansea colours.
The 35-year-old (pictured) is now sporting director at second-tier Spanish side Burgos CF
Tim Sherwood’s Aston Villa offered him a multi-million pound, three-year deal, but even though he would have passed a medical, Michu rejected the opportunity – to his family’s shock – due to the pain and not being able to do himself justice.
The season after playing in the Champions League for Napoli, he was playing for Spanish amateurs Langreo, where his brother was coach, for free. Following one more season with hometown club Oviedo, in which he scored one goal, and with significant ankle pain, he retired at just 31. The injury still troubles him.
He told the Athletic: ‘I have the right ankle of an 80-year-old. My left ankle is 33! Now I have pain just walking, or if the weather changes. Like an old man. I know it’s good to play football. You earn so much money but that’s the other side of the game – I will have pain all my life and as I get older, it will get worse. That’s football as well.’
Today, Michu is sporting director at Segunda Division B club Burgos in northern Spain. He has a young son, and he won’t rule out a return to Swansea some day as a coach.
He’s still in pain, but most importantly, he’s happy. And after all the happiness he bestowed on football fans, that seems fair enough.