Spanish Swans | The New Amigos
You will have seen we made our long read about the Spanish players who featured for Swansea City available to download as a PDF on Tuesday, which you can find HERE.
We have also shared the piece with you as five standalone articles.
Here is the penultimate part, covering the arrival of a crop of Spanish talent that would take the club to new heights.
Not even the most optimistic of Swans fans expected Michael Laudrup to walk through the revolving managerial door in 2012.
One of the most naturally gifted players to grace the beautiful game, the Great Dane immediately tapped into the market he knew best.
That was the Spanish market after his previous managerial spells at Getafe and Mallorca. He had, of course, also enjoyed remarkable playing stints at Barcelona and Real Madrid.
That batch of arrivals would prove to be inspired acquisitions as Michu, Chico Flores and Pablo Hernandez became the new ‘Three Amigos’.
Laudrup was well aware of his first Spanish signing, central defender José Manuel Flores.
Better known as Chico, the 25-year-old played under the Swans boss during a loan spell at Mallorca.
This time the reunion was permanent after a £2m fee secured his services on a three-year deal from Genoa in August 2012.
“I know I am joining a club that has been growing over the last few years and is still ambitious to go even higher,’’ declared Chico upon his arrival.
"Having played in La Liga and Serie A (Italy), two great leagues, it's a dream come true to play in the Premier League, one of the best, if not the best, in the world.
"Michael Laudrup was one of the main reasons I signed. He knows me as a person and as a player, so I was honoured when the call came.
"Being brought up in Spain, I have the same culture of possession and passing football. I like to play from the back, come forward with the ball, and add to the possession game.’’
Chico's career started as a youth player with hometown club Cádiz CF in 2005. He also spent loan spells at Racing Club Portuense and Barcelona B, helping the Catalans gain promotion to the third tier.
The defender then signed with Cádiz neighbours Unión Deportiva Almería to help the club maintain its top-flight status in La Liga after a 13th place finish.
Having made his debut for the Spain Under-21 side, he signed a five-year contract for Genoa in Italy for €4 million in July 2010.
A year later he agreed a one-year loan deal with RCD Mallorca where he teamed up with Laudrup, making 33 appearances.
It certainly didn’t take the charismatic Spaniard long to make his mark as his passionate and whole-hearted displays quickly secured him cult status among the Swansea faithful and earned him a one-year extension on his contract – a commitment Chico didn’t hesitate to make.
"I'm very happy," beamed Chico who was voted the Best Newcomer of the Year by the fans at the club's end of season awards night.
"Everything has gone better than I ever expected. I have found it easier to settle here than when I moved from Spain to Italy.
"I had no hesitation in signing a new contract for a number of reasons, but mainly because I can only see the team and the club growing.
"We play good football, which I think suits me, and the warmth of the fans towards me has been unbelievable. To hear them singing my name is amazing; phenomenal. I love them all.
"If you put all that together, everything is perfect, and I hope to stay at Swansea for a long, long time."
Chico would eventually leave in 2014, after 58 league appearances, to join Lekhwiya in Doha, again under Laudrup. From there he went on to play for Granada, Rubin Kazan and Fuenlabrada.
Joining Chico in Swansea was Michu, full name Miguel Perez Cuesta, in a £2.2m move from Rayo Vallecano, where his 15 goals, most coming from his trademark late arrival into the box, had helped the club avoid the drop from La Liga.
Arriving on a three-year contract and relatively unknown in Britain, his impact was spectacular and the attacking midfielder amassed an amazing 22 goals in his first campaign to be crowned the Premier League’s bargain buy of the season by the pundits.
In fact, it could be argued he was also the best buy after announcing his arrival in the top-flight with a brace at QPR on the opening day of the season.
Further goals followed, including crucial strikes against Manchester United, Arsenal, Newcastle and Chelsea as the Swans lifted the Capital One Cup and secured European football.
His form was enough to have Swansea’s Premier League rivals questioning why their scouting departments had failed to spot Michu’s talent.
“It’s been a dream coming here,’’ declared the 26-year-old who would sign a new four-year contract midway through his first season in SA1.
“It’s so perfect; the fans, the city, the stadium, the football, the team . . . I could go on and on. It’s the best place for me.
“The supporters have been so respectful to me, so I think they are happy with me. I am certainly happy with them. It’s that word respect though. They always speak to us; show their support, but in a polite way, which is nice.
“The stadium is also full for every game. When you are on the pitch in a bad moment, suffering because the other team is attacking you for a while, you hear the support and it makes you do that little bit extra. It makes a difference.
“There’s a lot more space between the lines here than in Spain. In Spain there’s a greater tactical dimension to the game and it’s harder to play in the number 10 role.
“I don’t mind where I play, although I prefer to be just in behind the striker. But that’s up to the manager.
“I have faith in my first touch and that’s essential here because you have such little time in the area. That gives you a great advantage.
“Playing in a team like Swansea helps me a lot because we like to keep the ball.
“The training sessions here are similar to what I’m used to in Spain because the manager does things in more or less the same way that he did with Getafe and Mallorca, although it’s true that your opponents are more physical in the Premier League.
“Playing for Michael Laudrup is an amazing experience. He was one of my idols when I was growing up. He always defends his players; he looks after them and he gets the best out of them.’’
In return, Michu was determined to repay that faith, not just with goals, but with the sweat off his playing shirt at the end of every game.
"I feel I have two important qualities that represent me - I am a worker and I have humility,’’ he continued.
“When I arrive at the dressing room people might say: 'You played very bad'. But what I can say is all that I can give is out there on the pitch. When I arrive at the changing room I have died."
Michu certainly gave everything for the cause and it came as no surprise at the annual awards dinner when he walked away with the Top Goalscorer’s gong, the Players' Player of the Year, Away Player of the Year and Supporters’ Player of the Year awards.
Unfortunately, Michu couldn’t repeat that amazing first season as a serious ankle injury ruled him out for long periods and would eventually force him to quit the game he loved so much.
He joined Napoli on loan at the start of his third season at the club before being released by the Swans in 2015 to join his brother’s amateur team UP Langreo and then his first club Oviedo.
His ankle continued to give him tremendous pain, however, and he was forced to retire at the age of 31 before taking up the sporting director’s role at Langrepo, Oviedo and currently Burgos CF in his homeland.
Laudrup left his big buy of the summer of 2012 until last though, persuading the club to part with a record transfer fee of £5.55m to snatch winger Pablo Hernandez away from Valencia on transfer deadline day.
Like Chico, Hernandez had played under Laudrup when they were together at Getafe before eventually returning to Valencia for €1m and a six-year contract.
“There were offers from other clubs, but Swansea was the only club I wanted to join,’’ explained Hernandez, who signed a three-year deal.
“Michael was my idol when I was young. Then I was lucky enough to play under him at Getafe.
“I was a young player at Getafe, and I learnt a lot from him. He gave me confidence and I have a lot to thank him for. Now I want to help him at Swansea in return because he was very important for my career.’’
A product of the youth system at Valencia, Hernandez made his senior debut in the final match of the 2006-07 season before spending the following campaign on loan at second-tier club Cadiz.
He then transferred to Getafe under Laudrup before returning to Valencia where his form earned him his first international cap as Spain finished third in the 2009 Confederations Cup.
Hernandez’s time at Swansea came to an end in July 2014 after 57 league appearances and five goals.
The classy midfielder often saw his patches of fine form disrupted by injury, but he still provided moments of wonderful quality such as a late equaliser against Chelsea and a made-to-measure pass for Wayne Routledge to open the scoring in an emphatic South Wales derby win in 2014.
He joined Al-Arabi in Qatar before - after a loan spell at Al-Nasr Dubai - Hernandez returned to Spain’s top-flight with Rayo Vallecano.
He then teamed back up with manager Garry Monk in August 2016 at Leeds United where he has been an influential figure in their push for promotion to the Premier League.
So, while the scouts from the other Premier League clubs continued to search La Liga for their own Spanish gems, in particular another Michu, up stepped the next batch of amigos under Laudrup’s watch as the Swans prepared for their Europa League adventure.
First to arrive in the summer of 2013 was Jose Canas on a three-year contract.
The combative central midfielder from Real Betis was targeted midway through the previous campaign, but was forced to wait for his contract to run down before joining on a free transfer.
A product of the Betis youth system, Cadiz-born Canas rose through the ranks at the club and made his first-team debut in 2009, before helping the club win promotion back to the top-flight in 2011.
The 26-year-old made 27 appearances in La Liga the following season and played a key role in helping them book a Europa League play-off spot after a seventh-place finish.
He was also no stranger to the Liberty after playing against the Swans in a friendly at the Liberty in 2010.
“I remember playing against Swansea for Real Betis and I was amazed by how quickly they passed the ball and how strong they were,” said Canas.
“It reminded me a lot of how Spain play. Swansea’s style was a key part in my decision to come here.
“The chance to play in the Premier League with a team that loves to play the same way as I do is a great opportunity. I have seen how well the rest of the Spanish players have done, so I’m hoping to make the same impact.’’
Canas was to make 23 league appearances over the course of his one season at the club before returning to Spain with Espanyol before stints with PAOK and – his current club - Red Star Belgrade.
Following the lively character to Swansea, this time from Espanyol, was Jordi Amat, a 21-year-old central defender who had already represented his country at every level from under-16 to under-21.
Born in Canet de Mar, Catalonia, Amat had been with Espanyol since the age of seven and progressed through the ranks to make his first-team debut at the age of 17.
He remained around the first-team squad for the next two seasons before a loan switch to Rayo Vallecano in 2012-13 paid off for both player and club.
The Swans had to dig deep for his signature with the club parting with £2.5m for his services on a lengthy four-year deal.
“I am very happy to join Swansea. One of my dreams has been to play in the Premier League, and I can do that here with Swansea,’’ said Amat.
“I am very grateful to the chairman and Michael Laudrup for giving me this opportunity and showing a lot of faith in me. My target now is to repay their faith and do everything I can to help the team.
“I watched Swansea last season and what the club achieved was incredible. To finish in the top half of the Premier League and win a trophy too is a massive achievement.
“In Spain, Swansea are very famous now. They talk a lot about the club and how they have become a successful team in the Premier League with an attractive style of play. So, to be a part of the team is a big moment for me.’’
Amat was to make 52 league appearances for the Swans over a five-year period that also included a 12-month loan spell at Real Betis.
He would eventually return to Spain on a permanent basis in August 2018 with Rayo Vallecano before joining KAS Eupen in the Belgian First Division A on loan.
The final piece in Laudrup’s Spanish jigsaw was Alejandro Pozuelo, a talented midfielder many believed had huge potential.
The 21-year-old arrived on a three-year deal for an undisclosed fee after his contract expired at Real Betis, for whom he made 11 league appearances in La Liga.
“Since I’ve been a little boy it has been my dream to play in the Premier League,” said Pozuelo.
“From the moment I heard of the interest from Swansea I watched their games and followed the news at the club.
“The style of the team suits me, and so too does the style of the manager.
“Of course, there are a lot of Spanish players here. I just want to give everything I have to the club in order to help the team this season.”
The trio impressed during pre-season and all featured in the club’s first European adventure in 22 years with victory over Malmo; Pozuelo scoring on his debut and again against Romania’s Petrolul Ploiesti.
By the end of his only season at the club, he had made 37 appearances in all competitions, mostly as a substitute, before returning to Spain in the close season with Rayo Vallecano.
After a short spell in Belgium with Genk, he now plays his football in the MLS with Toronto in Canada.
It meant the Swans prepared for the big Premier League kick-off against Manchester United on August 17, 2013, with seven Spanish players in their ranks. Swansea’s ‘Magnificent Seven’.
But, Laudrup didn’t want to increase that figure as the season kicked off, expressing the view that the squad must also retain the right mix of nationalities, especially in order to maintain that British feel in a multi-cultural Premier League.
He did eventually add Alvaro Vazquez to his ranks in September 2013 with a season-long loan move from Getafe, where he had scored 16 goals in 86 appearances.
Barcelona-born Vazquez had spent his youth career at Trajana before moving to Damm and then Espanyol, where the striker found game time in the B side before breaking into the first team in 2010.
In two seasons, he made 60 first team appearances and broke into the Spain Under 20 and Under-21 sides where he represented Spain at the 2011 Under-20 World Cup and also the successful 2013 European Championships.
He made his Premier League debut for Swansea in a 2-0 victory at Crystal Palace but played just 12 league games, plus eight in the cup, before returning to Getafe.
Laudrup had departed Swansea by the time the club went back to Spain for its next batch of recruits.