It’s a relatively warm Wednesday in Chadderton and I’ve set my alarm for 7:30. It’s my day off but I’m up early for good reason.
A quick coffee and brush of the teeth before I get changed into my retro Spain shirt from 1996 to 1998, lounge on the living room sofa and jump on a Zoom call, slated for 8:45 am.
Waiting for me is the greatest one-season wonder in Premier League history and a player the Streets Will Never Forget.
Miguel Perez Cuesta, better known as ‘Michu’, is on the line and greets me with a beaming smile and a compliment for the classic Adidas La Roja jersey I’m displaying.
His classic long locks from his time in the Premier League have gone but the memories of his time tearing it up at Swansea City remain.
Being completely honest, I wasn't familiar with the former Rayo Vallecano and Real Oviedo man when he completed a £2 million move to the Welsh outfit.
But then he made his debut at Loftus Road in the Swans’ red, white and green away kit and everything changed.
I can remember watching Match of the Day and seeing Michu, wearing the No.9 shirt, absolutely run the show in a 5-0 thumping of QPR.
Michu, one of three new Spaniards recruited alongside Chico Flores and Pablo Hernandez, struck twice and set up another in a masterclass.
The image of him twisting his hand whist putting it towards his ear would be a recurring one throughout the 2012/13 campaign, where Michu scored 22 goals in all competitions as Swansea finished ninth and won the Capital One Cup under Michael Laudrup.
“I thought that victories in the Premier League away from home were difficult but not my first game!” Michu told SPORTbible, reflecting on his first game in English football.
“I scored two and had one assist. It was a dream for me. The second game we won 3-0 at home to West Ham so my first two games were amazing.
“I still feel it [the love] with the media, Twitter. I was really happy over there. My first year at Swansea was amazing, we won the Capital One Cup at Wembley. I think it was the best year of my career.
“I didn’t know so much about Swansea but when I arrived, I fell in love with the city, with the country and of course the Swansea fans. The first year was amazing.
“We had a really, really good team. With Wayne Routledge, so much speed in the wingers. We won a cup and finished in ninth position with the Michael Laudrup and Swansea style.
“Swansea had this style for many years. Leon Britton was an amazing player and we had Jonjo Shelvey too, in the second season. Ashley Williams, Nathan Dyer, Wayne Routledge and Jonathan De Guzman – who played in the Spanish league.
“They changed a little bit now they are in the Championship but players in the Premier League told us they liked our style of football.
“It was good to score 22 goals that season and for me the best memory is winning the final against Bradford and it was the centenary of the club. I'm a lucky guy because I could live this in football.”
Michu hit 18 goals in a stellar debut season, with only Robin van Persie, Luis Suarez, Gareth Bale and Christian Benteke scoring more than him that year.
He had scored 17 the previous season for Rayo but this was his best scoring season by far.
He was on target against Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal – notably notching two in quick succession during a stunning victory at the Emirates.
Michu also scored three times on the way to Swansea’s League Cup triumph, including in the 5-0 drubbing of giantkillers Bradford City in the final.
But how did the football differ to what he had been accustomed to in Spain? And what about the major cultural differences?
“I think English football is so much harder,” he explained.
“Spanish is more [about] technique but Premier League was tough, tough games. So much speed, so much strength. For me, the Premier League is the toughest league in the world.
“I'm from Spain but I'm from the north, from Oviedo. In Swansea it’s always raining but in Oviedo too so it was not a difficult time for me. I am a professional guy, training really hard, sleeping at home and every day was the same.
“In Swansea life is normal and quiet. For me or for football players, it's a nice city to play football.
“The fans in the streets were amazing with me so I just have to say thank you for my time in the UK.”
The Premier League was full of superstar strikers at the time, including the likes of Van Persie, Suarez and Wayne Rooney.
But Michu more than held his own and it wasn’t just Swansea fans who adored him. I remember the ‘Nice to Michu’ banter was flowing at secondary school and I even wrote about him in my now-defunct ‘Back of the Net’ football magazine I used to sell.
There was, however, an even bigger admirer who has now gone on to become the deadliest striker in world football.
Erling Haaland's childhood idol was former Swansea City forward Michu.— SPORTbible (@sportbible) September 7, 2020
He's now doing his iconic celebration.
Things you love to see. pic.twitter.com/08WQB3ICD0
Long before he was breaking goalscoring records for Manchester City, Erling Haaland grew up idolising Michu, a fellow left-footed striker.
He’s copied his celebration and even used to pretend to be Michu, tagging him in his old Instagram posts.
The two linked up in Germany while Haaland was banging them in for Borussia Dortmund and exchanged shirts.
They talk regularly and Michu was slated to see Haaland in the Champions League semi-final first leg against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.
“I don’t know if I'm his idol but he’s mine," he revealed. "He is a beast. If he doesn’t have injuries, he will score 500 goals. He’s breaking all the records. For me he’s an idol.
“He’s the best striker in the world and he will be for years coming. He’s playing in a really good team with really good players but he’s the best for me.
“Kevin De Bruyne, I suppose it would be an honour to play with him with his fantastic assists but he’s ridiculous.
“He can’t stop scoring! I think he’s going to improve so much because he’s so young. He’s so cheap as well!”
Hello @ErlingHaaland 👋 your friend @Michuoviedo wants to send you a gift 😏🎁— Burgos Club de Fútbol (@Burgos_CF) February 24, 2020
Hola @ErlingHaaland 👋 tu amigo @Michuoviedo quiere enviarte un regalo 😏🎁#AúpaBurgos ⚪️⚫️ pic.twitter.com/gbF9KnbIJE
Of course, though, it wasn’t a sustained period of brilliance for Michu. Instead, he was put into the same bracket as Amr Zaki, Roque Santa Cruz, Marcus Stewart, Benjani Mwaruwari and Papiss Cisse – who were all branded 'one-season wonders'.
Is that an offensive term? Not in Michu’s mind. “I’m still very proud,” he stated.
“I know I had just one season, but what a season it was. 22 goals. For me it was the best time of my career, one hundred per cent. I would repeat it again if I could.”
The ear-cupping celebration proved immensely popular. I’d seen it before when Diomansy Kamara did it for Fulham but what was the meaning behind it? Why was Michu celebrating every strike in the same manner?
“When you are having problems, the haters are tweeting you to say ‘You are not a good player bla bla bla’ but when you are doing great and have success and you score a goal, it is for these people," he explained.
“When I played here in Spain, a lot of people in Oviedo in the city said I would never play in the Premier League in the highest level.”
Michu’s first season could not have gone any better but then he became plagued by ankle injuries in the second campaign.
He scored four goals in seven games in Swansea’s brief Europa League adventure, including a famous win in Valencia, but played just 17 times in the league and found the net twice.
A loan to Napoli followed in 2014/15, which no-one seems to remember at all - and probably rightly so because Michu only made three appearances in Serie A.
He then headed back to Spain with Langreo and boyhood club Oviedo, who he bought shares in alongside Santi Cazorla and Juan Mata to keep them afloat.
But he had to retire at the early age of 31 because of persistent ankle problems. And to this day, after FIVE surgeries, Michu still wakes up with pain in his right ankle every single day without fail.
Opening up about what he’s been through, he said: “When I finished my career in football I am not sleeping good. I have so much pain. I have a child, he’s five years old and I play with him in a park and I have a lot of pain.
“I’ve had that pain for a lot of years. I’m just trying to live in the best form I can and that’s a normal day for me.
“I wake up, I have so much pain in my right ankle. My left still has a good first touch!’
“My second season at Swansea I started to have problems. We were playing in the Europa League and I started to have problems in my right [ankle]. I had my first surgery and I improved but not so much.”
He was once quoted as saying that his “ankle is that of a 90-year-old" but that didn’t stop me from trying to sign him up for my Sunday League side Oldham Villa.
I explained that there are only a few games left of the season in the Oldham and Hyde District League but he seemed interested when I told him that star striker Josh Riley had reached the 30-goal mark, saying: "Good! Okay no problem! Can we play both up front? That’s good for me.”
Negotiations to get him to Crossley Park playing fields are ongoing. The sticking point is that Michu is currently employed by Burgos CF, who are currently ranked ninth in the Segunda Division.
He works as the sporting director, a role he previously held at former clubs Langreo and Oviedo and one that helps fill a void left when he retired.
“I'm really happy because I finished my career with an ankle problem," he adds. "I feel like a lucky guy because I'm still working in football. It's my life.
“I’m really happy as a sporting director but of course one day I have my mind on being a manager. I have my coaching licences. But no matter my role, if it’s football I will be happy.”
Michu was capped just once for the Spanish national team in their 'Golden Era', having made his debut for Vicente Del Bosque’s men as a starter against Belarus in a World Cup qualifier in 2013.
And given the array of world-class players La Roja had the time, Michu is proud that he represented his country even if it was just for one appearance.
“It was one of the proudest times in in my career," he says. "Because I think the Spanish players in that moment, they were both the European champions and world champions in a row.
“To play with the best players in the world and the best team in the world was a proud experience.
“They called me the next month to play two friendlies but I had problems in my ankle. I remember I went to the Spanish team in October but the pain in my ankle started in November so I couldn't play at the highest level.”
Michu has been back at Swansea since and received a raucous ovation at the Liberty Stadium in 2018. But the Jack Army can look forward to him returning again in the near future.
“I hope so. I love the country and I was really happy over there. Why not?”
This is the first edition of our SPORTbible's Streets Will Never Forget mini series in which we hunt down some of the iconic names from the Premier League to help tell their story.
Featured Image Credit: Alamy
Topics: Erling Haaland, Premier League, Swansea City, Spotlight