Del Bosque should let Michu be Michu

Posted by Max Hicks

Michu isn't a striker. He was brought to Swansea as the leading goalscoring midfielder in La Liga, and picked up where he left off by chalking up 18 goals in his first season as a Swan. All those goals from a player who might broadly be described as an 'attacker' led to Michu's misrepresentation as a striker, because only strikers score goals, right?

It is ironic then, that on finally achieving his dream of playing for the Spanish national side, Michu was started as a striker. It is doubly ironic that Spain, of all nations, have been recently famous for fielding striker-less formations, but couldn't see fit to do so for Michu's debut.

Even if Vicente del Bosque had returned to his amorphous 4-6-0 (or 4-2-4-0, call it what you will), Michu might still have seemed an uncomfortable fit. He is not a No. 9, despite what his club shirt might say, and he is not either a modern No. 10. The present day poster boys for that position -- take your pick from Juan Mata, Oscar, Mesut Ozil, Leo Messi even -- are all small players. Crafty and delicate, not physically imposing deep-ball players like the 6-foot-1 Michu.

Crucially, it is Michu's enthusiasm to get stuck in, to backtrack, tackle and get involved which makes him so effective when played deeper, and inevitably so under-exploited as a striker. Watch him during a match, especially when Swans are trailing. He is the image of industry, equal parts focus and frustration, with a work rate and desire to impose himself on every game that would make Michael Essien blush.

Compared with the culture and polish which defines most of the Spanish squad, Michu is a raw, physical, passionate anomaly, and it's all to his credit. That's not to say he lacks technical skill or that he could never fit into the Spanish side -- of course he could, but the side would almost have to be built around him, the way Swansea's has been, deliberately or not.

So it is little wonder Michu struggled to impress with the 57 minutes given to him in last Friday's World Cup qualifying victory over Belarus. Truthfully, he struggled just as much at times in the latter half of last season, when Swansea's refusal to pay over the odds for Danny Graham's replacement in January forced Michael Laudrup to make do with Michu as makeshift striker.

The tag seems to have stuck. It is a compliment to both Michu's prolificacy and his growing reputation that it has; strikers are football's superstars, after all; not quite so much midfielders (while defenders have to settle for being football's bass players). Still, it is a little bewildering than del Bosque himself couldn't recognise that to play Michu as a frontman is to cut his assets in half.

Still, Michu got his call-up, and looked pretty good wearing David Villa's No. 7, though not quite good enough to get on the field for Spain's final qualifier played on Tuesday. Perhaps next time -- if there is a next time, and I sincerely hope there is -- del Bosque might consider using Michu in a more useful role.

I might say the same for the Swans. With Wilfried Bony and Alvaro Vasquez now in the fold, Michu ought to be able to return full-time to his favoured position. He'll need to, if he's expected to develop any chemistry with Bony, and if the Swans expect to get the return they hoped for out of their record signing. Re-establishing himself as a midfielder won't hurt Michu's chances for another Spanish call-up, either; there are more midfielders in a starting XI than strikers, after all.


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