Michu on being Erling Haaland's idol, winning Swansea's only major trophy and his teammate's monkey

BURGOS, Spain -- Michu bursts out laughing. The footballer for whom the word revelation was made, winner of the only major trophy in Swansea City's entire history, capped by probably the greatest international team there has ever been, inspiration to the world's most fearsome striker, Manchester City's Erling Haaland, and scorer of exactly 100 goals across three countries is sitting on the bench at El Plantio, home of second division CF Burgos.

Still just 37, having swapped the pitch for the anti-doping room where he has set up office beneath the stand, he is now the sporting director at Burgos. He is listening to a message from his brother, Hernan, reminding him of one childhood dream he never managed to fulfill. To complete the Monkey Island video game.

"I'm worried," Hernan's message runs, "do you think we ever will?"

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"That's one of the objectives I still have in life," Michu says, cracking up again. Others have been met. More than he or anyone else imagined. Time then to look back over his career -- to look forward, too -- with those who have accompanied him. Hernan is the first to come from the players, coaches, presidents and fans ESPN has invited to ask questions of Michu. The warmth is overwhelming, and reciprocated.

"I only have words of praise for the 'beast'," says former Rayo Vallecano manager Jose Ramon Sandoval. "Bukanero Sandoval!" Michu calls him.

Hernan's is the first Michu listens to, but the last comes from a small boy who, like Haaland, idolised him. Still does. Michu's face lights up: he recognises the voice of a kid who is 11 now but who he has seen at games going back years; someone else he has inspired.

You may have seen Haaland celebrate a goal by raising a hand to his ear. Just a boy himself when Michu tore up the Premier League with 18 goals in 35 games in 2012-13, Haaland borrowed that from the Swansea striker, and it is familiar to everyone. But what does it actually mean, the young fan who has also copied it many times asks. "Well, it's a long story," Michu smiles.

It is a story of unusual loyalty. It is also, Michu admits, a story of stupidity. And yet, it's the start of everything. In January 2010, when he was at Celta Vigo in the second division, he was made an offer he couldn't refuse: the chance to play in primera. There was just one problem. Michu was born in Oviedo, had been in the youth system at Real Oviedo, and had played with the first team in the regionalised tercera division -- a fourth tier which is anything from the 7th to the 24th best division in the country. He was also a fan of Oviedo. And the team that wanted him were Sporting Gijon, Oviedo's fierce local rivals.

He refused.

"There was an agreement between clubs, but I didn't want to go," he recalls. "I wasn't starting often at Celta and the Sporting manager Manolo Preciado -- rest in peace -- was wonderful. 'Come and play in primera.' It was a dream for any player, an opportunity, but I decided not to go and there was a lot of fuss. Lots of people in Gijon said I would never make it, I had missed the train. That hurt. They poke your pride, and that makes you stronger. I ended up playing in the Spain national team, in three top European Leagues: LaLiga, the Premier league, Serie A. I scored 17 at Rayo in the first division, got 22 at Swansea, got a Spain call, and every time I scored that was my response."

"When things are going badly, the haters crawl out from under the rocks; when it's going well, there is silence, and that celebration was a 'Now what? Where are you?'" Michu stops, laughs, and adds: "I don't think Haaland does it for the same reason."

"My mum is a teacher, making maybe €1,800 a month," he continues. "It was a lot of money, a five-year contract. For a mum who loves her son to see him pass up a contract that could set him up for life is hard. She supported me but you don't know if you might get injured, if you'll ever make it. Her parents were a carpenter and a house wife, this was an amount of money she could never earn, and she couldn't understand how anyone could not sign: she'd never seen numbers like that on a piece of paper in her life.

"And now that I have a son, although I would never interfere with his decision in a situation like that, as a father I can say it was irresponsible not to have signed. But then, I always allowed my feelings to guide me. It turned out well, but deep down I know that what I did was irresponsible. Viva la irresponsibilidad!"

Michu did make it though, even reaching the Spain team in a career that took in Celta, Rayo, Swansea, Napoli, Langreo and Oviedo again. And so to the questions from those who made it with him.

Diego Cervero, Real Oviedo teammate: At 17, you made your debut for Oviedo in the third division against Siero, 20 years ago now. What do you remember about that?

There were 15,000 people there for an Oviedo-Siero, which doesn't make any sense at all in tercera division. I came on in the 60th minute and scored the only goal and what I most remember is that I was so nervous about talking to the press. I was trembling going in there. I saw Chisco, a journalist I know, and said: 'Don't ask me much, please: I can't even talk. Just write whatever you want, the normal stuff: I'm happy or whatever.' But that day meant everything to me.

Roberto Trashorras and Joselu Mato, Celta Vigo teammates: What do you remember about your time at Celta? And especially those games of FIFA.

Roberto! Si, señor! We would play until very late, especially on preseason: loads of us playing Pro Evo or FIFA. Mind you, it didn't do much harm. Look at Iago Apas. And Joselu is God: I'm so proud to see him get a Spain call up now.

Iago Aspas, Celta teammate: Which team did you enjoy playing for the most? And who were the best players and managers you worked with?

Iago was one and, you know, we were about to sign him for Swansea but he decided to go to Liverpool. I wouldn't say that he made a mistake because he has the talent to go to Liverpool or anywhere, but knowing him -- and I spent four years with him in Vigo -- I think it would have suited him.

He would have been surrounded by Spaniards, in an environment that would have been good for him. [Coach] Michael Laudrup wanted him come what may: he asked me to speak to him. I would have enjoyed that. But when 'You'll Never Walk Alone' sounds you have to go. The place I most enjoyed was the Spanish national team. The best team in the world: look at the players and it's madness.

Sid Lowe: Did that call up to Spain come a bit late?

Yes, but they were the world champions, had won it all. Stick a new boy in there, pfff. Vicente del Bosque managed Spain so well. To answer Iago's question, he's one of the best in history. The most important quality a coach has is knowing how to lead a group and he did it fantastically.

I had Rafa Benitez at Napoli and I didn't play much with him but he's incredible too, a different type. I would highlight him and Michael Laudrup: he gave me so much confidence. He was 50, he had that little beer belly, but he put his boots on -- classic Copa Mundials -- and he was still the best player. He would do those passes without looking and we fell for it every time, laughing our heads off.

Raul Tamudo, Rayo Vallecano teammate: Do you miss the French bulldog you had in Madrid? And what went through your mind when Rayo survived in the final seconds of the final day in 2012 [Tamudo was a goal scorer that day]?

Yes, I miss Nano so much. And what went through my mind? Nothing! When Raul scored I just went completely mad.

Juan Mata, fellow Oviedo youth teamer, former Valencia, Chelsea and Manchester United midfielder, now at Galatasaray: You were a sensation in 2012-13. How did that feel?

Like I was on wheels, rolling from the start against QPR, when I scored two. I had all the confidence in the world, like I couldn't be stopped. Playing at a mythical place like Wembley in the League Cup final was incredible. I saw Juan a bit that season, he was at Chelsea: I know his dad and sister Paula well, and he's a role model, someone who left Asturias and succeeded. To feel that I could be there with players like him was special.

Wilfried Bony, Swansea teammate: My man! Tell us about that victory [Swansea's 3-0 Europa League win over Valencia in 2013] when there were more Spaniards in our team than theirs.

That was probably our best night. There were four of us the first year: Pablo Hernandez, Angel Rangel, Chico Flores, me. Then in the second year Canas, Pozuelo, Alvaro Vazquez and Jordi Amat came. Jonathan Guzman had been at Mallorca and Villarreal. It was a family, which is why it worked.

I remember Mestalla applauding us and that purple and yellow shirt, which was lovely. We were very, very good. Bony was a born goal scorer. He had these incredible quadriceps. He didn't even warm up and he would go out and hit the ball so hard. We'd be like: 'Madre mia, Wilfried, the day you tear a muscle, it's going to be a kilometre of muscle fibre!'

Juan Ramon Torla, former Oviedo director: What would you take from England to Spanish football and vice versa?

What would I take from England? The distribution of TV money. And the way fixtures are set in advance. Football is for the players and the fans but we're losing that and it's a pity. What would I take to England from Spain? Players. There's so much talent that succeeded there: Juan Mata, Santi Cazorla, David Silva, people who you think 'bloody hell, how can they do so well with that physique?' But they have that 'pause,' the technique which is hard to find there and is everywhere here.

Chico Flores, Swansea teammate: Which teammate was the most fun to go to Ibiza with?

Chico Flores! I was with him at Swansea and he is someone I would go anywhere with, always. He's mad, not right in the head. We would go to training together and he had this monkey jumping about. The monkey would wee everywhere too, like a fountain. Chico's living room was like a zoo. I've had teammates that weren't right in the head, eh, fun too, but with a monkey, it could only be Chico. I've never had as much fun with anyone. He has such a big heart.

Eduardo Alvarez, physiotherapist: Do you realise that it's thanks to me that you're a sporting director?

True! I have to thank to Edu for my retirement: he couldn't cure a cold! Nah! Edu is the best physio. He's at Real Sociedad now and he helped me so much. I still call him about fitness issues. It was very hard, mentally as well as physically, having to retire and dealing with the injury.

I was only 30 but the pain in my ankle was unbearable. In fact, I think I played too long because now, with how much it hurts just walking or playing in the park with my son, I think I should have taken greater care of myself, stopped sooner. The thing is, you're young, your head and heart want to continue. You're getting to the ball a second late but you think you can make up for that with other things. I saw a mental coach because it was hard. Everyone around you encourages you to play, you feel you have to fight for your family too.

One day I told them: 'I can't take any more. It hurts my soul to say this, and I know you want me to play as much as I do, but the pain is unbearable. I'm suffering in training, in games, and I'm not at the level the club deserves.'

SL: What was the last straw?

It's a process but I remember one night -- and I am eternally grateful because it must have been difficult for him too -- Fernando Hierro, the Oviedo coach, invited me to lunch. Next afternoon he said: 'You decide, but I'm going to give you some advice, because I can see you suffering, limping. Why don't you think about retiring? I feel for you. You're the first into training every day, the last out, you give everything but you can't do it. I can't put you on the pitch.'

I think he played me too much, in fact, because he was trying to help me. There were teammates who deserved more minutes than me. I said: 'mister, thank you: you're right.' I really appreciated the courage to tell me, as a friend. I had five operations but couldn't get back to my Swansea level. It impacts everything. My bad ankle was the supporting foot: in a game at Zaragoza it didn't hold me and I tore a muscle. The shot went out for a throw. On the bus back I was given valium and by the time we got to Oviedo I was in Narnia, totally out of it with pain.

Manolo Lafuente, Oviedo president 2002-2005: Do you regret going back to Oviedo? And are you going to complete your Business Management degree so you can be CEO somewhere?

Manolo is a great president! He's also even worse than my parents for getting on at me about finishing the course. I do want to, because I find the world of finance fascinating and it would help me be better prepared as a sporting director or some other role.

As for Oviedo, no: I was clear that I had to close a circle. Oviedo is everything to me. I was there from alevin [U12s] to the first team, and I wanted to end there. I had a two-year contract: the first year, I gave everything and, struggling with the ankle, the second I waived. I was able to retire in front of my people with the Oviedo badge on my chest and that meant the world to me.

SL: What is the day after like? It's said that a sportsman dies twice, the first time when he is forced to retire.

It's very hard, even at 36, 37 pain-free. I was young, hurting. I tell players to get a career, qualifications because you're going to need something on the other side. Overnight you go from good money to zero. Many lose their heads. You have 40 years ahead of you, you need something.

Miguel Linares, Oviedo teammate in Michu's second spell: You became a sporting director when you retired. What's harder: that, or playing? And does your dad still go to every game?

Yes, always! He doesn't miss a match. I'm qualified as a coach too and I've thought about that a lot, but I like this role: you have a big responsibility, you have to make lots of key decisions, including identifying and supporting the coach -- the most important. I suffer more now as sporting director than when I played: on the pitch at least you can change a game.

Diego Cervero: Would you like to go back to Oviedo as sporting director?

I have a clear target: I would love to be Burgos' sporting director in the first division. To have taken a club from Segunda B to primera would fill me with pride. I feel so much affection from the fans here and I would like to be able to give them a club that is stable, well-run and in the first division. We don't have endless money, but that would be the dream.

Oviedo? It's my home: I know the pressure and no-one is a prophet in their own land but we all want Oviedo back in the first division. I saw it as a kid, but it's been a long time.

SL: There's this guy called Haaland who wants to emulate you. If anyone can convince him to join Burgos, it's you.

Hahahah! He overtook me by miles ages ago. It's an honour. He's the best striker in the world. If he doesn't have bad injuries, he will score 500 goals [in his career], break every record, win every trophy. I would love to see him at a World Cup. The challenge for Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, City, was to have signed him four years ago. It was Dortmund who did good business. People will say: 'it's easy to say now' but there were signs then. What's he worth now? More that Burgos can pay for sure. Maybe I'll make an offer, just to see our name alongside the biggest clubs in the world.