“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”. These are the words of Spanish striker Michu following the purchase of shares in his hometown club to prevent their bankruptcy in 2012.
At the time Michu, full name Miguel Perez Cuesta, was on top of the world. Finishing the season as the Premier League’s fifth top goalscorer with Swansea City and rumored to be on the verge of a monumental transfer to one of Europe’s elite clubs, Oviedo fans could surely only dream of having the star – who graduated from their youth team in the same year as Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla – back home.
These fans have this season seen that dream realized, but only after a personal nightmare for the Spaniard. Many in Britain look back on his career as one of unfulfilled talent; a player who dropped off the map, presumably because of a lack of ambition or bad attitude, but the truth is far different.
Following his incredible first season with Swansea, their qualification for the Europa League through lifting the League Cup and his own sense of loyalty persuaded him to ignore the advances of clubs such as Liverpool and Arsenal. His fidelity delighted Swansea fans, who understandably thought their talisman could propel the club to the upper echelons of the Premier League in the coming season. 18 league goals that season had been preceded by 15 for a struggling Rayo Vallecano in La Liga; there was no visible ceiling on a career that was presumably destined for the international stage.
Michu did become a Spanish international, playing in their World Cup qualifier against Belarus in October 2013. That appearance was a rare moment of joy in a season that started brightly but was soon ravaged by knee and ankle injuries, resulting in just two league goals and an end to his fledgling international career. The ankle injury in particular, sustained in an derby game against Cardiff, caused repeated problems as he spent much of the season on the operating table or in his native Asturias recovering.
A loan move to Napoli for the 2014/15 season followed, with hopes that the ankle would hold up and his career would get back on track, perhaps even take a leap forward through the mess. Life in Naples proved difficult for the forward, though, as further derailments resulted in just a handful of appearances and not a solitary goal from a player who fully fit would have surely taken the Serie A by storm. On the 23rd October 2014, just a couple of months into his loan deal, Michu felt his ankle go in a Europa League game against Young Boys and didn’t make another appearance for the club.
The Asturian returned to Swansea at the end of the season demoralized by his ordeal, and found the club unwilling to continue working with a player they had given up on and replaced. The two parties agreed on a settlement to terminate his contract and despite interest from clubs such as Sevilla, Aston Villa and Celtic he decided to remain without a club, stating that it wouldn’t have been right to sign a professional deal while feeling incapable of being a professional player.
It was a dark time for the player, with no light emerging from the end of the tunnel, but eventually he resolved that the fight would continue: “There was a time went I thought it was going to be the end, but one morning I got up and said I could continue, even though the pain was still there” he reflected.
The question was: where would Michu go next? He knew despite his renewed drive there would be a struggle back to full fitness, if full fitness were possible at all. The injuries had left an insufficient amount of cartilage in his ankle, meaning excruciating pain as the bones came into contact.
It was this dilemma that led the star to do what some would consider unthinkable from a player who just a season earlier had been in the Champions League. Michu signed for Langreo, a tiny club just outside Oviedo. Langreo are in Spain’s Tercera Division; a name that flatters a league actually below six tiers of Spanish football due to the existence of a ‘Segunda B’ containing four separate, regional leagues, and that is split into 18 groups of 20 teams itself.
With the love and support of both his brother – Langreo’s manager Hernán Pérez Cuesta – and everybody at the club, Michu finally made his comeback after more than a year on the sidelines. Slowly regaining fitness and form, he notched up nine goals from 16 appearances in attacking midfield. The first step in his rebirth had been completed successfully.
By the end of the season, he was in contact with Oviedo over realising the return he’d described four years before, when sat beside Luis Suárez and Gareth Bale as some of the Premier League’s deadliest finishers. By the 19th of August it was official: Michu was back home. As his brother commented “He is from Real Oviedo. Everything that he is as a play, he owes to the club. The Oviedo fans demonstrated that they were with him in his worst moments”
Although yet to score in the league and clearly still adjusting to the level, the forward has netted two goals courtesy of a Copa del Rey appearance and has evidently lifted the club, his name ringing out around the stadium both home and away. Oviedo currently lie in the bottom half of the table but hopes that their talisman will inspire a rise in their position are tangible.
Perhaps Michu’s name will never reverberate around the stadiums of European giants again; perhaps it will. One thing is for certain: it will continue to be chanted with immense pride around the ground that means more to him than any other.