Wednesday, December 3 rd, 2014
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From Swansea to Naples, introducing Michu: Benitez's new Spaniard striker
The former Swansea finisher arrived in England as a trequartista but his skills convinced Laudrup to deploy him as a forward. With Hamšík and Higuaín in the roster, in which position will he play for the Partenopei?
by Anthony Pepe
Miguel Pérez Cuesta, known to his childhood friends and football fans worldwide as Michu, is the latest big-name addition to Serie A and Napoli’s Spanish contingent since Rafa Benitez was appointed as manager. At first glance he looks like a typical number 9, perhaps like Llorente. He’s tall (1.85m), physically imposing and likes hard running, without mentioning his numerous technical qualities. If his goal scoring record in Spain is relatively low (47 goals in 254 appearances), it is because he actually always played behind the striker, as a number ten, rather than spearheading the attack.

He wasn’t a household name in Spain when he was sold to Swansea City in Wales, however he had just finished his most productive season in Spain, at Rayo Vallecano, scoring 17 in 39 while playing behind Diego Costa and was primed for a move. Keen follower of the Spanish league and Swansea manager Michael Laudrup snapped him up and declared how happy he was to obtain such a talent at such a low price (£2 million). Michu was brought to the EPL to play behind the striker, but after having seen him in training Laudrup decided to play him as the striker himself. The decision was correct, in his maiden season in England Michu netted 22 goals in 43 games.

Michu is also a late bloomer on the highest stage of football. He started in his home town of Oviedo, at Real Oviedo, alongside future star Santi Cazorla. After continually progressing he stepped up to the Segunda División with Celta Vigo; 14 goals in 101 games from midfield allied to his overall play meant a step up to La Liga was inevitable, with the newly promoted third team of Madrid, Rayo Vallecano, in 2011. This will not only be Michu’s first season in Serie A, but only the fourth of his entire career in a top division for a man who recently turned 28. However, the high level of play he has shown in the short time since arriving is why Napoli has seen fit to gamble. During his solitary season in Madrid not only did he score goals (15 in the league, placing him in the top ten) from midfield, but helped a team with very few top-level players finish two points and three places above the relegation zone.

It’s not necessarily his goals that make him a special player, but rather the significant proportion of those goals which were self-made and the work he does for the team. Michu doesn’t only rely on through balls or crosses to score, he can beat his man with a dribble or hit a long shot all while being a very reliable finisher in and around the box and also scoring against the big clubs such as Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea, not to mention winning the Capital One Cup, scoring in the semi-final and final.

Last season, however, was much less enjoyable for Michu. Swansea City and manager Laudrup struggled and Michu was frequently troubled with injuries; in 24 games he only managed 6 goals but his talent remained evident (he also played the last couple of months of the season behind a true number 9, the Ivorian Wilfried Bony, rather than up front). Napoli have bagged him with an insurance policy due to perceived potential injury problems, he has been brought in on a season-long loan with the option to purchase at the end of the season.

Where he will play now for the Azzurri of Napoli is as yet unknown, the two positions he has mastered are presently skilfully occupied at Napoli by two of the teams’ biggest stars: Gonzalo Higuaín and Marek Hamšík. It has been suggested that Michu could take Hamšík’s spot behind the striker, pushing Marekiaro back into the midfield two and it is almost unthinkable for Benitez to play two strikers. It does seem to sound the death knell for Goran Pandev’s time at Napoli; Duván Zapata is seen as one for the future (probably on loan at Torino) while the club seems to be trying to mend its relationship with Chilean World Cup star Edu Vargas. It would be a shame for Napoli to lose such a versatile and tactically adept forward as Pandev, but he is too good to be third choice at any club and therefore is likely to go display his sizable talents at another team, most likely in Serie A.

He has already declared his liking for the lifestyle in Naples, much more similar to Spain than Wales, even if he is from Asturias in the north, and he has said that the welcome in Naples has touched him. He has already played thirty minutes in a Napoli shirt, coming on in the second half to replace Duván up front and not Hamšík, in a friendly against Feralpi Salò. Benitez said he was happy with his work rate and movement; it’s clear that he has arrived already in top condition. Perhaps he gave Benitez a clue as to where he wishes to play…as Higuaín is still on holiday the number 9 shirt was available for the friendly and Michu trotted out wearing the same number he wore at Swansea City.

Thursday, July 31 st, 2014
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