In colloquial Spanish, a phrase meaning to wind someone up is literally translated as ‘touching someone’s balls’. Such behaviour is commonplace between opponents on a football pitch but in a game between Real Madrid and Valladolid in 1991, Michel took the phrase a bit too literally when he grabbed Carlos Valderama’s nether regions while defending a corner. The incident went unnoticed by the referee but not by the cameras, and he was handed a 500,000 peseta – €3,000 – fine.
While this is the most memorable of all his transgressions, Michel has rarely been adverse to doing or saying what he wants. With his job on the line last season and waiting to be seen whether Sevilla would give him a new contract, he might have been advised to have kept a low profile, but instead criticised the club's board, saying: “I don't think this club’s problems are just the fault of the Coach, there’s been five Coaches in two years.”
As a Madrid player he would react furiously to criticism from the Bernabeu faithful, and when he resigned as head of Real Madrid’s academy in 2008, he pulled no punches in his leaving speech, charging against President Ramon Calderon, declaring: “I’ve had enough of Calderon's lack of respect and his lack of knowledge.”
Michel joined Real Madrid’s youth system when he was 13. He made his debut in 1982 after the first team went on strike and despite scoring in that game he was not given another go until over two years later. Along with Emilio Butragueno, Miguel Pardeza, Manolo Sanchis and Rafael Martin Vasquez, Michel formed the ‘Quinta del Buitre’, the five homegrown players that would define the second half of the 1980s in Spanish football.
Michel was the last member of the five players to make the step up to the first team, but once
in, he was there to stay, clocking up 559 appearances in 12 years and forming an incremental part of a Madrid side that won five consecutive League titles between 1985-1990, and two back-to-back UEFA Cups. Although he scored an impressive 178 goals, his real strength was in providing assists, and to this day he is still lauded as one of the best crossers in the history of the Spanish game.
With ferocious strikers such as Santillana, Butragueno and Valdano among his teammates throughout the years, there were many grateful recipients of his crosses. He perhaps formed the best partnership with Hugo Sanchez, the Mexican consistently getting on the end of his crosses with his head, scoring an unprecedented 38 goals in 1989-90 – all by taking just a single touch to score – a record which stood until 2011.
Michel left Madrid in 1996 and saw out his playing days in Mexico, rejoining old teammates Sanchez and Butragueno at Atletico Celaya. A seven-year career as a television commentator followed, and he proved to be just as forthright in the commentary box as he was on the pitch.
Michel’s career in coaching has so far proven much less glorious than his playing days, but no less eventful. He was sacked after his first season with Rayo Vallecano, and then somehow managed to lead a Real Madrid Castilla team containing future internationals such as Juan Mata, Borja Valero and Alvaro Negredo to relegation, before being removed from the post to a position at Madrid overseeing the youth set up.
He revived his reputation to an extent with Getafe, gaining European qualification in his first season, but this counted for little once things turned bad, and after Getafe secured top-flight status by just a single point at the end of 2010-11, he was once again sacked, for the third time in his short managerial career.
Sevilla hired him in February of this year with the stated aim of getting the team back into the Champions League. He did not even manage the Europa League, but after much dithering, President Angel Maria del Nido decided to give him another chance, enthusing: “We trust in Michel, he knows why he hasn’t been able to get the best out of the team but his footballing vision is the right one.”
Sevilla currently sit just two points behind Levante in fourth spot. Their performances against Real Madrid, Barcelona and the thrashing of Real Betis last week show they have got what it takes to qualify for at least the Europa League.
But if they do not, it is likely that Michel will have a fourth sacking against his name.