Following protracted wrangling, Spanish striker Michu eventually signed for Napoli last week from Swansea City. The 28-year-old finally arrived on an initial year-long loan deal with an €8m purchase option in place for the end of the season.
Of course as with any straniero, there is always a risk. Will he settle? Can he adjust to the new footballing system, to his new Coach, new teammates and the tougher Serie A defences? Some players can adapt quite easily, others can struggle and no manager can really know how things will work out until those signings take to the pitch.
One thing we do know is that with his wealth of experience in Spain and the English Premier League, Michu Perez Cuesta, to give him his full name, is a player who seems to tick most of Benitez’s boxes. “Michu is a player that can play in two positions,” emphasised the Spanish Coach. “He can play as a second striker or as a lone forward. He is able to penetrate and score but also knows how to play with other strikers.”
Benitez is certainly aware of this and experienced Michu at his deadly best when manager of the then European champions Chelsea. In January 2013 Michu scored Swansea’s first goal as they whipped the hosts 2-0 in a League Cup semi-final, before going on to help win the Welsh club’s first major trophy.
So what can the fans expect of the one cap Spanish international? Will he be the player who took the Premier League by storm in 2012-13 or the moody, injury-hit man of his second, whose price dropped dramatically from a reported £20m to a loan fee of a ‘mere’ £1m?
There’s no doubting his quality, as shown by his 22 goals in that first season under manager Michael Laudrup, who bought him for a bargain £2.2m from Rayo Vallecano in July 2012. Laudrup, like Benitez, favoured a 4-2-3-1 set- up and initially brought Michu in as an attacking midfielder, where he played with some success in Spain. However, after scoring twice on his League debut, the Dane began to use him more as a striker.
After that first barnstorming season there was little chance Swansea would have let him leave for anything less than £20m, with Laudrup even suggesting that he was worth nearer £30m. Michu had finished as the League’s fifth top scorer with 18, and it is this version of the player that Napoli will have hoped to have captured.
Principally seen as Gonzalo Higuain’s deputy, Michu also has an understanding of a deeper role, presenting Benitez with a viable alternative also to Marek Hamsik. And combined with his ability to exploit the smallest of chances and score some absolutely terrific goals, Swansea’s loss should be Napoli’s gain.
At 1.91 metres he is also potent at set pieces, no slouch at dribbling and his ability to shield and pass a ball with either foot also makes him a good second striker or even a playmaker. On the surface of it he should have no problem adapting to Benitez’s style, with one up front and three behind, as it is a system he experienced under Laudrup.
Of course there a few risks to take into consideration, including his poor performances during an injury-affected last campaign. Yet, with his proven versatility and Benitez’s coaching ability there is no reason to doubt that the old Michu cannot resurface.
If he does well, then Napoli have struck an excellent deal and he will represent a bargain at €8m. On the other hand, if he plays like he did in the second half of last season then they can send him home without investing anything but the loan fee. Basically it’s a no lose situation.