Michu: Very few teams try to play football in England
In a sport as ruthlessly professional as football, it is heartening to learn that some players still possess a more romantic vision of the game. A case in point would be Miguel Perez Cuesta, otherwise known as Michu. In 2010, as a young attacking midfielder plying his trade for Celta Vigo, then in the Spanish second division, he turned down a tempting offer from top-flight outfit Sporting Gijon.
The motive behind the refusal of a lucrative transfer to a higher level was as simple as it was unusual: Sporting happen to be the main rivals of Real Oviedo, the team that Michu supported and played for from an early age, and he viewed the potential move as a betrayal of something close to his heart.
The incident, which received a considerable amount of media coverage in Spain, increased the profile of a footballer who has since continued to make headlines for more traditional reasons, such as talent and goals. Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to describe the Asturian, who has scored eight times in 14 Premier League games for Swansea City, as one of the revelations of the 2012/13 English season.
“I feel like I’ve adapted pretty well," Michu told FIFA.com. "The Premier League is one of the best competitions in the world, and when I was offered the chance to come here, to a team that plays great football, with Michael Laudrup as manager, well, the idea appealed to me a lot.”
Michu arrived on English soil on the back of a highly productive season in La Liga with Rayo Vallecano. His 15 goals and well-timed runs into the box saw his stock rise among fans and even brought him to the attention of Spain coach Vicente del Bosque, although that much sought-after international call-up has yet to come.
“I realise that getting in is a tough challenge,” said the rangy midfielder. “The Spanish national team is currently made up of some of the very best players in the world. They’re two-time European champions as well as defending world champions, so they deserve all the credit they’re getting, at least until Brazil 2014."
Michu is part of a growing Iberian contingent at Swansea, whose squad now contains four Spaniards, and the team’s style of play, which encourages possession of the ball and building from the back, has been compared to that of Del Bosque’s side and Barcelona. As far as the Oviedo-born footballer is concerned, he finds the Welsh side’s ‘Swansealona’ nickname to be slightly exaggerated.
“Nobody can play exactly like Barcelona, because they don’t have Barcelona’s players, but we do try to dominate opponents by keeping hold of the ball, and over here very few teams actually attempt to ‘play football’," Michu said. "The game is more physical, with long balls and knockdowns."
Seemingly a man of simple habits, Michu has not had any trouble adapting to life with the Swans, whose players find themselves in the unusual position of having to use a gym – and a dressing room – shared by the public, due to the club’s present lack of private training facilities.
“It’s a little bit strange, isn’t it?” he remarked. “But I think it’s because they’ve grown so much in such a short space of time. Four years ago, they were in England’s third tier, and I doubt that even the board of directors expected them to get to the Premier League so quickly, or to obtain such good results. It’s a humble club, but the fans create a great atmosphere and the ground is always full. I’m very happy here.
“Players do tend to have a special attachment to the team dressing room, but here we don’t experience that feeling on a daily basis. We share our facilities with people heading off to work, or taking their kids swimming, but it’s also a good place to make friends,” he continued, laughing.
The 26-year-old is also delighted to be performing under the command of his childhood idol: ex-Barcelona and Real Madrid creator Laudrup. “We’re all very glad he’s here – he places a lot of trust in his players, and gives them freedom to express themselves,” he said.
Something else that is very clear in Michu’s mind is the reason behind the success that Spaniards have enjoyed in the English game in recent times. "There’s more space here, and that’s why Spanish footballers, who are used to tight spaces and fewer touches, tend to excel in the Premier League,” he explained.
“Santi Cazorla, David Silva and Juan Mata, all products of a La Liga, are good examples – here, if you give them time to think, you’re done for. But they’re world-class stars, after all. They’ve really stood out recently."
For Michu, La Roja’s 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ triumph has well and truly put Spanish football on map: “The star above the badge that you earn for winning the World Cup has turned out quite well for us, as it did for others before us. Spanish footballers are very much in demand now. Good players can be bought at affordable prices.”
Michu is well-placed to comment on moderate transfer fees, as his new employers were able to secure his services from Rayo Vallecano for just £2m – a sum that, judging by his exploits in the Premier League so far, is regarded by many observers as a definite bargain. Not only is he the Welsh team’s top scorer, but he has also helped them climb to the lofty heights of eighth in the league table, above more established names like Liverpool or Newcastle United.
And with a League Cup quarter-final tie against second-tier Middlesbrough – and the realistic prospect of earning a spot in the last four – just around the corner, Michu has been dreaming of going all the way in the knockout tournament: “My dream for this year is to experience a final at Wembley."
The legendary stadium would certainly be a fitting arena for one of football’s rare romantics.