Prolific Michu lighting up Premier League
When Swansea announced the signing of Miguel Perez Cuesta from Spanish struggler Rayo Vallecano in July last year, it barely caused a ripple in English football.
At 2 million pounds ($3.2 million), many will have presumed that Michu - as he is better known - was simply another journeyman foreigner soon to be swallowed up in the world's richest league.
Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson had never heard of him. He wasn't on the radar of Arsenal's scouting network either. Other clubs deliberated about signing him but eventually declined.
What an oversight.
The lanky forward is now established as one of the Premier League's most lethal finishers, scoring 16 goals in all competitions this season, and is in line for a call-up by world and European Spain for the Feb. 6 friendly against Uruguay.
Michu is being spoken of in the same breath as Robin van Persie, Luis Suarez and Sergio Aguero and, unsurprisingly, is being linked to a move to one of Europe's top teams in the offseason. He won't be easy to prise away, though.
''We all know the situation, the economic situation in the world, so there really aren't that many clubs who can buy him,'' Swansea manager Michael Laudrup said. ''There are some here (in England); in Spain, there are only two (Barcelona and Real Madrid). Italy? I don't think so. They're trying to sell. Bayern Munich in Germany ... so only a few, few clubs.''
Considering Michu was a sensation in Spanish football last season, scoring 15 goals to help Rayo avoid relegation on the last day of the season, the continent's powers missed an absolute bargain to highlight glaring blind spots within their scouting departments.
''It hurts me to hear Arsene Wenger say that nobody here had heard of Michu,'' Guillem Balague, a Spanish football expert with Sky Sports, told The Associated Press. ''It is a failure in the scouting system in England that nobody could see his potential.
''It's something for these clubs to analyze, that somebody who cost ?2.5 million cannot be worth it for their team. There are players like that in Spain now - they should sharpen their views.''
Goal-scoring midfielders are always godsends, and Michu is proving he is up there with the best. He has the cool finishing ability of a striker despite never having played in the position on a regular basis.
Laudrup, though, has pushed him further upfield and Michu is now Swansea's main forward as the unheralded Welsh team continues to impress in the Premier League while closing in on a place in the League Cup final. On Wednesday, the Swans won 2-0 at Chelsea in the first leg of the semifinals - and yes, Michu scored.
''He is a coach that has given me a lot of freedom and that is important,'' Michu recently said of Laudrup, arguably Denmark's greatest ever player. ''Sometimes he plays during practice and you are amazed, he still sees passes where no one else does.
''I am still learning.''
Michu started out playing for home-town club Real Oviedo in 2006-07 and then spent four years in Spain's second division with Celta Vigo. Rayo had him for just one season, before the economic problems engulfing Spanish football forced the club to sell its most precious asset at a knockdown fee.
''I would never expect a new player to come in and score so many goals, but I can't say what expectation I had for Michu,'' said Laudrup, who knew Spanish football well from his time as coach of Getafe and Mallorca. ''What he is doing, in terms of goals, is incredible - particularly when you think he's never been a No. 9.''
Swansea has been a haven for Spanish players for the past five years, ever since Spaniard Roberto Martinez joined as manager and attempted to implement a playing style similar to that of mighty Barcelona.
Martinez plucked Angel Rangel, Andrea Orlandi and Guillem Bauza from the Spanish lower leagues - they were quickly labeled the ''Three Amigos'' - and three more Iberians joined in Jordi Gomez, Gorka Pintado and Albert Serran.
Laudrup has followed the same path, bringing in not just Michu but center back Chico Flores and winger Pablo Hernandez from Spain.
''It is a very humble club, like Rayo,'' said Michu, who chipped in to buy of Real Oviedo shares when the club was on the brink of bankruptcy. ''We train at the city sports center and change with people from the street that are going to the pool, for example.
''Perhaps we don't have a lot of luxuries and the facilities are not the best, but all of us are rowing in the same direction and we are one big family.''
Laudrup doesn't expect to lose Michu in the January transfer window but knows anything is possible in the offseason.
''He's happy where he is, so I'm really not afraid because I'm so sure he will stay with us for the next five or six months,'' Laudrup said. ''I don't know how much he is worth. Ask my chairman.
''He was the bargain of the season, we know that.''