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Michu - the pre-Swansea story, and the post-EPL impact (12th September, 2017)

The picture of Sandoval's star player hung dangerously in his office. He was the face of a Rayo Vallecano side that was poor but proud - hardworking, humble, hungry, hopeful.

Miguel Pérez Cuesta, the player that no one had ever paid for and no one had heard of, was the highest scoring midfielder in La Liga with 15 goals.

Michu was born and raised in the proud confines of the city of Oviedo, the capital of Asturias. A city known for being the birthplace of Fernando Alonso and Juan Mata, for the University of Oviedo - whose list of graduates include Sid Lowe - and for its unwavering dedication to art, culture, and dance.

Michu debuted in 2003 - at the age of 17 - and played for Real Oviedo for four years, a club he saw move from the Tercera to the Segunda B and back again. He was the main player, the fulcrum of the team. Unfortunately, the club’s main concern was not how they were playing, but rather if they were playing. With financial problems and a relegation to the fourth tier, Michu left for second-tier Celta Vigo.

Initially with the reserves, he was called up a year later in early 2008, where he stayed for the remainder of the season and the three that followed. He was, again, a mainstay but, playing as an attacking midfielder, he seemed to never score much - just 14 in his three and a half seasons.

In mid-January 2010, a transfer to La Liga with Sporting de Gijón in order to replace Birmingham City-bound Míchel was almost arranged, but the oviedista just couldn't bring himself to play for Sporting and stayed instead.

In 2011, Celta took on Granada in the promotion playoffs. Despite scoring the first leg's only goal, the second leg took the tie to a penalty shoot-out during which Michu failed to convert his spot-kick. His miss lost the game for his team.

And Celta let his contract expire, and no one noticed.

Rayo Vallecano, freshly promoted to the top flight, signed him on a free in July 2011, and no one noticed.

But it was a masterstroke from José Ramón Sandoval. At Rayo, where the attacking midfielder has historically been the main goalscorer, Michu prospered. 15 goals he had scored in La Liga, one more than the 14 he had scored with Celta for four seasons. Those goals were important too, including braces against Real Sociedad, Racing de Santander, Osasuna and Real Madrid. It was his first season in La Liga and he had been a revelation.

Moreover, he got his revenge - and his famous hand-to-ear celebration - against Granada, when during Michu's warm-up against Granada the fans mocked him, pleading with him to take another penalty against them. Michu scored the game's opening goal and in celebration instinctively lifted his hand up to his ear to listen out for the Granada fans' abuse.

Michu listening for the Granada fans' abuse - not that he got any...

He then transferred to Swansea in 2012 for €2.57 million (£2 million) - a move that was touted as a bargain - where he played as a striker and stunned the EPL with a goal within eight minutes. 18 league goals, the League Cup, links to Manchester United, a Spanish national team debut - the success just kept on coming....

What followed was a season of injuries at Swansea, a season-long loan deal to Napoli where his recovery was "pushed", more than a season of recuperation, training for amateurs Langreo in the Tercera where his brother Hernán was coach, signing for Oviedo - the club where he truly belonged - and retiring this summer.

And yet, even though he had just one season of greatness in the EPL, for me his impact on the league has been larger than that. It was that, suddenly, the Premier League took notice of a market that produced brilliant players, who resided at clubs that would take any money thrown their way. Not a few months after his move to Swansea, this was the coverage La Liga teams were getting:



The race to find the next "Michu" had begun...

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