“They will love him. He’s a character.” Swansea’s original Spaniard, Angel Rangel, on how Chico Flores will be a hit with Swansea fans.
On Saturday 18 August 2012, Swansea City fans were introduced to a player who is destined to become a cult hero at the club. By the time the highly impressive Michu was superbly curling his second goal into the net, I had fallen for another Spaniard in the Swansea team. Although Michu stole all the plaudits and headlines, I know anyone that was there on that day was equally blown away by the performance of new Spanish signing Jose Manuel Flores – better known to me and you as Chico. No, not that one off X-Factor! (Although more on Chico Flores’ pop music career at the end).
There has been very little fanfare about the arrival of Chico – in fact there has been very little fanfare around Swansea City in general from most areas of the press during the buildup to the 2012/13 season. The press was dominated with talk of Swansea losing Brendan Rodgers, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Joe Allen, yet there was little mention of the arrivals of Jonathan de Guzman, Michu, Chico and even manager Michael Laudrup, apart from the obligatory “he wasn’t a bad player was he?” comment.
Laudrup really was a brilliant player, but his managerial career has had its peaks and troughs; however, Laudrup and Swansea on paper appear to be a perfect match. Instead of scouring the world for football talent, Laudrup stuck to what he knows in the transfer market by signing players from La Liga, a league he resided in for 7 years as a player and just over 2 years as manager at Getafe and Mallorca. Michael Laudrup has also worked for Sky Sports as a pundit for La Liga games, so he knows the league well. Whilst at Mallorca, Laudrup encountered the Dutch/Canadian midfielder De Guzman and the centre back Chico Flores for the first time. Laudrup departed his role as manager of Mallorca very early into the 2011/12 season after an ongoing bust-up with the club’s owners; one of his last acts as manager at the club was to sign Chico on a season-long loan from Italian club Genoa. Despite spending little time at the club with Chico, Laudrup had seen enough to persuade him to bring the Spaniard to his new club in South Wales.
Simply, Chico had a dream debut. Anyone that was present at Loftus Road for Swansea’s demolition of QPR would have drooled at the lethal finishing on display, but just as impressive and vital to the victory, was the brilliant defensive display from the back 4, plus midfield dynamo Leon Britton and the imperious Michel Vorm. I believed that the finest performance on the day, even better than the headline-poaching Michu and the double scoring Nathan Dyer, was Chico. I had not known what to expect from the Spaniard, especially considering he was set with the tough task of replacing the excellent Steven Caulker, who was on-loan at Swansea from Spurs last season. About halfway through the first half, it was clear that Swansea had unearthed a gem of a defender. First of all, he clearly fits the Swansea mould as a defender that can play football the “Swansea Way”, very much like his predecessor at the club, Steven Caulker. The stats prove this as Chico had a 91% pass completion rate (51 completed out 56) – this stat is even more impressive when you consider that Swansea did not play repeated passes between the centre backs like they regularly did under Brendan Rodgers; 51% of Chico’s passes were forward. In fact, Chico had more touches of the ball than any other Swansea player with 79 touches and the only player on the pitch that had more touches than him was QPR’s influential Adel Taarabt. There was the odd occasion where he lost possession but he soon won the ball back for his team.
But, the Spaniards game is not all about elegance, as it was very clear that Chico loves a (clean) tackle. Everything that was put in front of him Saturday was dealt with easily. He’ll certainly prove uncompromising when met with the Premier League’s star strikers. Not that Chico will be starry-eyed by the players that will be trying to force their way past him.
Like many players, Chico’s career began at his local club, Cadiz. After two season in club’s reserves between 2005 and 2007, Chico would step into the senior squad for three games during the 2006/2007 before going on two loan spells; Chico’s first loan spell came in July 2007 at Racing Portuense, before another loan spell followed at Barcelona B in January 2008. During his spell at Barcelona B, he helped the team climb to the third tier of Spanish football, Segunda Division B. With the Barcelona B team, Chico played alongside two of Barca’s future stars, Sergio Busquests and Pedro, as well as being coached by one of the greatest managers of all time: Pep Guardiola. During the 2007/08 season, Guardiola was serving his managerial apprenticeship with Barcelona’s B team with many speculating that the Barcelona legend was being trained up to take over the senior team in the near future. Guardiola was very impressed with Chico during his loan spell, so much so that when Guardiola became manager of the senior Barcelona team the following season, after the sacking of Frank Rijkaard, he wanted Chico to join the club and train with the senior team. Unfortunately for Chico, Barcelona and his parent club Cadiz would never reach an agreement. Chico departed from the Catalan club and Guardiola giving his former manager glowing praise:
“When I said goodbye to Guardiola, I told him that it was a pleasure to have known him and to have learned so much from him. Guardiola wished me luck. I knew him as a player, but as a person and as a coach he’s even better. He knows how to deal with a group and how to treat the players. I wish him the best. He has very clear ideas, he’s a winner and he can transmit that to the group. Barcelona made an excellent choice.”
On returning to Cadiz, Flores found himself heading straight back out the door and on his way to top-flight club, Almeria. This is where Chico’s career would really spring into life.
Almeria were about to enter their second season in La Liga after completing their first ever top-flight season in their short history the year before – the club finished an impressive 8th. The defender was signed by influential manager Unai Emery, who was hoping that Chico could help stabilise the defemce ready to build on the club’s impressive first season. In his first season, Chico would start in just 15 games and come off the bench in 5, but the club’s league position would slightly worsen as they finished in 11th place in the 2008/09 season. Chico would feature much more in his second season at the club, starting in all 27 of his appearances for his club. Chico was now beginning to impress and make a name for himself in La Liga and soon there were many suitors, hoping to prise the Spaniard away; names such as Sevilla, Newcastle and Genoa began to circulate around transfer gossip columns. After drawn out negotiations, Chico agreed terms with Italian club Genoa ready for the 2010/11 season for around €4 million with a 5-year contract.
Chico’s time at Genoa would prove frustrating as he found himself repeatedly confined to a substitute’s role (7 starts, 8 appearances as a substitute). At a time when Chico’s career appeared to be fledging, the transfer to Genoa would stall his development (Chico was still only 23 when he moved to Genoa) and after one season Chico sought an escape from Italy for the 2011/12 season. His way out would come in the form of Michael Laudrup at Mallorca. Laudrup had just finished his second season at the club and it had not gone well on and off the pitch; the precarious financial situation at the club had meant that Laudrup had to use loan signings to bolster his squad. On 22nd July 2011, Flores moved to the Baleanic Islands’ club on a one-year loan deal with the club having the option to buy the player concluding the loan deal. As mentioned previously, Laudrup had had a tough year at the club and he came very close to relegating the club, thanks partly to a leaky defence. After a bust-up with the club owners, Laudrup walked only weeks into the 2011/12 season. Many predicted Mallorca to struggle again, but Chico and Mallorca were to go on to have a great season under Joaquin Caparros with the club battling for European spots all season, but ultimately finishing an impressive 8th place. Chico was integral to Mallorca’s fine season with his all-action defensive displays. Chico helped Mallorca put together an impressive defensive record with Mallorca conceding the fewest goals outside of the top 3 clubs (Barcelona, Real Madrid and Valencia) in La Liga – just 46 goals conceded in 38 league games: a highly impressive figure for a club under financial constraints and who had come close to relegation the year before. Chico had once again shown his quality and there were glances his way from clubs all over Europe. Laudrup had made note of the defender from his time at Mallorca and made him his first signing of his Swansea tenure.
I’ve already spoken of how I’ve fallen in love with the Spaniard. I discussed how he plays and all his attributes, but his footballing prowess aside, the reason I like him so much already is because he is clearly bonkers! Anyone that saw him celebrate all 5 of Swansea’s goals against QPR so vociderously will know what I mean. Each time the ball hit the net, Chico was seen celebrating as if his side had scored the winning goal in a cup final…5 times. He also came over to the Jack Army on several occasions, pumping his fist and encouraging the Swansea faithful to roar the team on; if there’s one thing the Jack Army love, it’s someone that loves the Jack Army. From Chico’s interviews with the press following the season, he regularly mentions the fans and he has stated he is playing for the city and the fans:
“I also want to make the fans proud of having me in their team.”
He is destined to become a Swansea cult hero and a fan favourite – I know it.
In the same game, Chico also showed his prowess in attacking positions by hitting the bar from a Jonathan de Guzman corner – god knows how he would have celebrated if he scored himself. Chico has already bagged himself one goal during preseason in a preseason friendly against San Jose Earthquakes on Swansea’s tour of the US.
Chico is another player in a mass Spanish Armada that has swept Swansea City Football Club over the past 5 years. Chico follows on from the original three amigos Guillaum Bauza, Andrea Orlandi and the best and most long-lasting of all Swansea’s Spanish imports, Angel Rangel. The amigos arrived under Martinez, who also filled much of his backroom with Spaniards – at one time there were ten Spaniards in Swansea’s playing and coach ranks. Following on from the original Spanish invasion in 2007, over the next 5 seasons came Gorka Pintado (best debut game ever), Fede Bessone (half Spanish anyway), Jordi Gomez, Albert Serran and now Michu and of course Chico. In a recent interview Angel Rangel expressed how the foreigners moving to Swansea, especially the Spaniards, find it really easy to settle at the club, thanks to the continental feel to the club off the pitch and the continental style of play on it. Rangel went on to say how the Spanish contingent have helped Chico settle in:
“It’s a big adventure and move for people to leave Spain. The first three were Andrea, Bauza and myself and we didn’t have any Spanish lads here to help. We just helped each other at the time. We had to deal with it. When the other six or seven came we all knew it would be difficult for them. We knew that they could not speak the language. It’s like Chico at the moment. He doesn’t speak English, but he has the three Spanish lads and has found it easy. He said ‘Without you I don’t know what I would do.’ We have been helping him because we are a close family here.”
It is becoming a regular occurence now for new signings to fall in love with the city of Swansea as soon as they arrive (I think that goes for everyone I know that has stepped foot in the city actually) and Chico is no different. He seems to have immediately embraced the area and he has spoken of his joy of playing for the fans and describing the place as “phenemonal”.
I can only hope that the display I witnessed from Chico Saturday (he really was superb) will become a common sight in the Premier League this year – it’s always good to start with a 5-0 win and clean sheet. In a recent interview, when asked if he had a message for Swansea fans, Chico declared:
“Yes, I only would like to say that if I put on a team’s shirt, I always defend it to the death, and this is what I’m going to do.”
Whatever happens, Swansea fans can be in no doubt that this man is clearly going to give a 100%. I’ll say it again: cult hero in the making.
I’ll finish with another reason why we should love this man. There are very few Premier League footballers that can say they have starred in a Spanish pop music video – check out his acting ability! I leave you with Spanish singer Nane and the offiicial video for her song Olvidala with it’s video starring Chico Flores.
Some of the quotes used in this article are taken from Chico Flores’ interview with Total Football Mag.
You can follow Chico Flores on Twitter at @ChicoFlores12