It was midway through Michu’s first and only season with Rayo Vallecano that he was linked with a move to Manchester United.
Like Levante during the same season, an interesting and exciting talking point was emanating well away from the big two in La Liga, though not necessarily geographically.
Rayo were and continue to be the smallest of the Madrid-based teams currently competing in the top flight. During that season in which Michu came to fame, the team that wanted to attack, but couldn’t always help themselves at the other end, where they became entrenched in a relegation scrap that went all the way down to the wire, past the final game and well into the final minutes of the league season.
At Rayo, Michu was compared to Frank Lampard for his goals from midfield – a fitting description back then. But Michu has abandoned the clearly defined midfield role and has walked along a path of ambiguity. Still no one really knows if he’s a midfielder or a forward. Perhaps he’s both, like his compatriots who effortlessly move about the pitch and throw up great debates as to how to properly define, say, Juan Mata, who is a No.10 at Chelsea but who played as a left winger and striker at Valencia.
And there is no knock on Michu’s abilities, just that he doesn’t fit the mould of a typical Spanish player. The positional uncertainty is there, so too is the quality in the final third, but the style and fluidity of performing in *that* type of system is clearly absent, or rather a different approach is preferred.
It doesn’t matter too much. With the building of a superpower comes the need to further develop to stay ahead of the chasing pack. Spain have conquered Europe and the world, but it would be foolish for them to not seek other means of advancing through on goal; the oft-marginalised Plan B.
The thing is, that Plan B may not come from Michu, at least not initially. Diego Costa is the bullish battering ram than can complement the ‘traditional’ players in Vicente Del Bosque’s team. He’s direct, he’s proving to be a fantastic source of goals, and his call up eventually will be deserved.
But like Michu, it would have been a little unusual, even wrong had he – and for the sake of the argument, dismiss nationality – been called up to the national team in 2009. It was the height of Guardiola’s Barcelona. Xabi Alonso, as good as he is, was breaking up the most dominant midfield axis in Europe in Barcelona’s midfield three. Andres Iniesta would find a place further up the pitch, but that again highlights the flexibility of many of the Spaniards. There was talk of the false 9 to attempt to replicate the Barcelona model to its fullest. First it was David Silva and then eventually Cesc Fabregas. It was the necessary evolution of a national team taking the strongest elements of its domestic game.
Now, however, is the right time for Spain to be talking about Michu and even Costa. Not because of how good they are, but because of their contrasting style that will strengthen Spain’s standing at the zenith of international football.
In a Barcelona where Fabregas is steadily carving out his future as the direct option over Iniesta and even Xavi, Michu will represent a similar alternative for Spain. He won’t play keep ball with Xavi, Busquets or Silva; you may even forget he’s on the pitch while the tiki-taka is in full flow. But he will pop up when it matters and will likely to put the ball in the back of the net, such are his instincts further up the pitch.
Michu may have deserved a call by the Spanish coach in the past, but now the time is right.
Has the wait for Michu’s Spanish call up been justified?
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