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Football News: Where Are They Now? Part 1: Michu

Where Are They Now? Part 1: Michu
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Where Are They Now? Part 1 - Michu

 

What happened to those one season wonders? This series is about what they did after that stellar season. I am starting with probably the king of the one season wonders, Michu. A man whose solitary season of greatness lit up the Premier League to the extent that it inspired Erling Braut Haaland into using his name on social media like a true fanboy does.

Michu, real name Miguel Perez Costa, graduated from Real Oviedo's youth academy in the same year as Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla and played there as a midfielder until Oviedo were relegated to the 4th tier. They were suffering financial issues and so sold him to Celta Vigo, with just 13 goals in total to his name. Like his aforementioned classmates, Michu was a technically gifted, classy midfielder without the burst of pace that forwards usually possess.

Celta were in the second tier and in 2011 they faced Granada in the promotion play-offs. Michu scored the only goal in the first leg but the second leg ended 1-0 to Granada and the tie went to penalties. Michu missed the pen which saw Granada promoted and it also meant he would leave the club on a free transfer, as his contract was expired. According to Gerry Armstrong, he and Marcelino recommended Michu to a number of Premier League clubs, including Tottenham Hotspur, but instead he was snapped up by Spanish top flight side Rayo Vallecano with 14 goals in 101 appearances.

It was at Rayo that he emerged as an attacking talent, there he played behind the striker as an attacking midfielder and scored 16 goals in 37 appearances over the course of the season. It was also there that his famous goal celebration began when he once again faced Granada. The Granada fans mocked him throughout the warm up, begging him to take a penalty against him. But Michu got his revenge by scoring the only goal in the game and then celebrating by cupping his hand behind his ear towards those fans, who had now gone silent.

It was then that Michael Laudrup's Swansea City side swooped in to sign the Spaniard for just £2m, beating the likes of Fulham, Stoke City, Southampton, Wigan Athletic and West Bromwich Albion. Rayo were loath to let Michu leave but they were in administration and had little choice but to sell off as many of their players as they could to ensure the club's survival. It was July 2012 and, despite all the interest from clubs, Michu was an unknown to fans in England, but that was to change very quickly.

Just eight minutes into his Swans' debut, Michu scored with a speculative shot from the edge of the box against Queens Park Rangers. Though it was mainly down to an error by QPR keeper Robert Green, it was the confidence boost he needed with a new club and he added a second with a left-foot curler from the edge of the box as Swansea won 5-0. For Swansea fans that season was unforgettable as they finished 9th in the Premier League and Michu scored as they won the League Cup with a 5-0 win over Bradford City at Wembley.

Michu's total of 22 goals for the season also included a late double to beat Arsenal 2-0, and he had lead the goalscoring charts for the first half of the season, before defenders began to focus on him as the Swans' main threat. In his first 15 Premier League games he scored 10 goals. No one was surprised when he won Swansea's players' player of the year and supporters' player of the year awards for the 2012/13 season.

He also became even more of a hero back in Oviedo that summer as he, Santi Cazorla and Juan Mata bought shares in Real Oviedo to save the club from bankruptcy. All three came through the youth system at Oviedo and Michu said: "It would be a dream to return to Oviedo and retire there with them in the top tier, because that's my home and I feel so loved there." While he may have planned to move on in the future, he rejected interest from Liverpool and Arsenal to stay with the Swans for the 2013/14 season.

The season started with so much hope, Swansea were in the Europa League and looking to build on their top half finish of the previous season and Michu looked to be ready as he scored in a Europa League win over Valencia. Then he was hit with a series of knee and ankle injuries and, with the team struggling and pressure building on Laudrup, Michu was rushed back too early. He was still doing well enough to a Spain call up in October 2013 and he got his only cap against Belarus in a 2-1 win for Spain.

Despite the problems, Michu had still scored 6 goals when the club announced on Christmas Eve 2013 that he needed ankle surgery which was expected to rule him out for 6 weeks. By the time he was fit to return, Laudrup had been sacked and Garry Monk had taken charge, which did not augur well for the Spaniard as Monk questioned Michu's loyalty, with Michu and Laudrup having been close friends. He also briefed the local press with very negative terms regarding Michu, which led to local papers interpreting everything he did in a totally different way than they once had.

Michu had always been the first out of the dressing room and into the tunnel at half-time, in his first season that was reported at him being enthusiastic. Now he was being called a loner and not part of the team, hence standing there alone waiting for the rest. With the ankle injury having destroyed the cartilage in his left ankle and leaving bones grinding on bone, causing him extreme pain, he was accused of just being a temperamental diva who had got too big for his boots.

Monk then introduced an obsession with sleep patterns, bringing in sleeping pods to the training ground to try and ensure the players were getting the right amount of rest. Jonjo Shelvey remembered: "We had these bands to wear, for when you go to sleep. They monitor you to show you how much you are sleeping. They put it all up on a screen in the canteen. We had a meeting, there were a few lads going to bed at like 12 and that, on one graph he showed that someone was sleeping for three hours a night, and it was Michu. He was coming in and his eyes were drowsy and puffy, it turned out he was just up playing Playstation til like 4 o'clock in the morning. I don't know if he had always been like that. He looked tired all the time, then he got a bad injury."

Which is not quite correct as the injury was there already, the club had simply not realised how bad his ankle problem was and kept trying to push him to play as soon as possible. The relationship with Monk was in the toilet, Monk considered him a malingerer and was already divesting the squad of all of Michu's friends. Monk's status as a club legend ensured he was able to initially get away with alienating large portions of the squad and then, for the 2014/15 season Michu was sent on loan to Napoli, as Monk tried to clear out all of Laudrup's influence from within the club.

At Napoli he managed just four appearances before he started a Europa League tie at Wankdorf Stadium in Bern and, after just 60 minutes, his ankle cried enough. Napoli immediately began thorough medical tests of a kind Swansea failed to provide, on 4th November 2014 it was discovered that he had periostitis, which is an inflammation of the tissue surrounding the bone. One common variant of periostitis is shin splints. Unfortunately for Michu, his condition had become acute and caused necrosis (the death of the tissue). Napoli ended the loan move and sent him back to Swansea.

At the end of the season Michu cancelled his contract with the Swans and, despite all his injury problems, he still received interest from Aston Villa, Sevilla and Celtic. Michu rejected Villa's offer saying: "they offered me a three-year contract, so much money. I think, as a person, you have to be honest and honourable. And also, if I'd wanted to stay playing in the Premier League, I'd have done it at Swansea, not Aston Villa. I could go to Aston Villa and play for three years, two years, whatever I could play. But I could not play at my highest level. It's bone on bone. I have the right ankle of an 80 year old. My left ankle is 33."

Instead he joined his brother, Hernan Perez Cuesta, who was manager of Spanish 4th division side UD Langreo to train with them and try to rebuild his fitness. It was 441 days after his last game for Napoli that he was back on a football pitch with Langreo to face Covadonga, who had allowed the game to be postponed initially so that Michu would be able to face them. Michu spent the season playing for free for Langreo in an attacking midfield role, scoring 9 goals in 16 appearances.

At the end of that season he returned to Oviedo, but the pain forced him to retire from playing in 2017 aged just 31: "According to medical reports, the current situation of my right ankle has come to a point where it has forced me to say goodbye as a professional football player. Even though I am saying farewell to you with so much sorrow." For a while he worked with his brother as director of football at Langreo, before third tier side Burgos FC appointed him as sports director.

While there his name returned to the headlines connected with goalscoring, as Erling Braut Haaland's exploits threw up the unexpected discovery that Haaland had tagged him as Michu on social media. Haaland revealed that he was a huge fan of Michu and Michu presented him with a signed Burgos shirt when he found out. Since then Michu has returned to Oviedo, where he is now technical secretary, as well as a shareholder and season ticket holder. Not quite the triumphant return Michu had hoped for all those years ago..

Written by Tris Burke January 04 2021 06:01:14

 

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