JOHNNY MCLELLAND fondly remembers Michu’s explosive debut, whilst lamenting his short stay at the top table
Some players burn brightly, but briefly. For a season in South Wales, Michu dazzled brighter than a diamond. However, his Premier League tenure would read like the ancient proverb: “the flame that burns twice as bright, burns half as long”.
On 20 July 2012 Miguel Pérez Cuesta, affectionately known as Michu, signed a three-year contract with Swansea City. The 26-year-old Spaniard was a £2.3m bargain from Rayo Vallecano, who desperately needed to make money off transfer fees to pay their own top-flight wages. Michu was initially signed to replace Gylfi Sigurdsson, a tall order as the Icelander had scored seven goals in 18 games on loan the previous season.
Michu’s debut came on the opening day of the 2012/13 season as Swansea faced QPR. Strolling out into the in the West London sunshine, his bedraggled hair covered the shoulders of the new red Swansea away jersey. After eight minutes a speculative first-time shot with his left boot from outside the box slipped through the fingers of a stretching Rob Green. An emotional Michu pushed away teammates to celebrate in front of the away fans.
The second goal was everything his first wasn’t; precise, composed and sumptuous. As the incessant Wayne Routledge rolled the ball into Michu’s path, Swansea’s number nine opened his body up and with his first touch guided the ball with a deft left-footed curler into the top corner of QPR’s net. This time, the delirious Swansea fans would see a celebration they would witness several times before the end of the season, a celebration he had brought with him from his time in Spanish football. Michu would raise his right hand to his ear, quickly twisting it forward and back. It harks back to when he missed a penalty whilst playing for Celta Vigo against Granada, after that, anytime he played them the Granada fans would always sarcastically chant for him to take a penalty and Michu would pretend he couldn’t hear them.
He told the clubs official website: “Of course, now I am at Swansea, but I still like to do the celebration because it reminds me of my journey here.” Swansea won the game 5-0, and Michu got two of the goals and assisted Scott Sinclair by winning a loose ball in midfield and slide ruling a pass along the floor for Sinclair to bury. “It couldn’t have gone better,” said a giddy Michu afterward.
While the Swans basked in the success of their Spanish sensation, every other club in the land kicked themselves for failing to snap up Michu when his agent was peddling the largely unknown player to clubs across England the previous year. Even Sir Alex Ferguson admonished Manchester United’s scouts for overlooking the forward.
There was so much more to Michu and to dub him a pure target man would’ve been a tremendous understatement. Given his unpredictability, the attacker had a spectral knack of being in the right place at the right time to finish off chances, with head or either foot. Team-mates had initially referred to Michu as ‘the student’, the friendly boy with the backpack and messy, product-free hair.
“He just put some water on it and would go out,” Michel Vorm once said. In fact, his unpredictability wasn’t just in his playing style on the pitch, after signing he said his ambition was to go to Scotland to find the Loch Ness Monster.
The Spaniard continued his good form for the rest of the 2012/13 season, bagging 18 goals in 35 games for the Swans, helping them finish ninth in the table and also securing his team a Europa League third round qualifying spot by winning the League Cup.
Sadly, Michu’s knees and ankles began to cause him problems and in 2013 he underwent surgery that the club said would keep him out for six weeks. He returned three months later, but the free-scoring talisman of the previous season had been replaced by a less sure-footed, more lackadaisical player. It probably didn’t help that his mentor, Michael Laudrup, was sacked during his absence. His fragile ankles ultimately forced his retirement much, much too early.
Swansea fans, however, will simply cherish a season where the unassuming man from Oviedo defied the odds, tore Premier League defences apart with ease, and fired them to rare Wembley glory.