From once touted as the future of English football to becoming a liability at Aston Villa; Micah Richards‘ footballing career has been nothing short of an extreme roller coaster ride. It has been almost 13 years since a certain 17-year-old Richards (now 30) burst onto the scenes as a late substitute in City’s 1-0 defeat at Highbury against Arsenal.
Although his appearances in his debut season were limited, the talent and the rigours were easily viable; so much so that the fellow Premier League side Tottenham went on to make a £5 million bid over the summer transfer window, only for the youngster to pen down a new contract with the Citizens. Even his then manager Stuart Pearce had predicted a bright future for the teenager, saying, “I would love to see Micah stay here, captain the club, and maybe be here for 10 years and carry the club on his back if he can.”
The prophecy was real as Richards established himself as a first-team regular at City only a season later. Despite not having much of experience and exposure, Richards would literally bully his opponents thanks to his rugged physical structure and a flashy pace. And well, the international call was never too far. Micah had only made 28 professional appearances, but enough for Steve McClaren to get him in his squad. The defender earned his first international cap at the tender age of 18, making him England’s youngest-ever defender; a record which stands till date.
And well, just when he thought things couldn’t go any better, he was given the captain’s arm from Manchester City in 2007, making him the youngest player to captain Manchester City. Micah, during his prime, was a typical English defender, known for his Herculean physique and no-nonsense defending. Adding to that, his versatility allowed him to play as a right-back as well as a central defender.
However, following McClaren’s sacking, Richards saw himself frozen out of the England squad by the new manager, Fabio Capello. In Capello’s four years of tenure with the Three Lions, Richard featured just once. “I didn’t get a chance under Capello. I don’t know why. I always asked the question, but I never got an answer,” said the defender following Capello’s resignation.
Expectations from the youngsters, though, were surreal as he was tipped to form a formidable partnership alongside Vincent Kompany at the heart of City’s defence. Roberto Mancini’s arrival, however, saw Richards moving back to his familiar spot – right-back – displacing Pablo Zabaleta in the line-up and also being named as the vice-captain of the club.
Making 29 appearances in the league, he guided City to their first ever Premier League triumph.
As three months into the new season – 2012/13 – unfolded, Richards’ career smacked its first stumbling block. City were leading 1-0 against a below-par Swansea City at home, and with five minutes to go, Richards went down on ground holding his knee and needed a stretcher and oxygen to get him off the field. The injury required an operation to repair a torn meniscus which ruled him out for a whopping 16 weeks.
The defender marked his return six months later, but well, he was far from being his usual self. Besides that, he had Zabaleta to fight for his place too. City won the league again in the 2013-14 season, but with Richards only managing two league appearances, he missed out on his winners’ medal.
Richards was never the same again, and thanks to his injuries woes, he was shipped to Fiorentina on a season-long loan to get his fitness back on track. A three-at-the-back tactic by Vincenzo Montella, however, saw Richards failing to adjust to the new environment and as soon as he returned to his parent club (in 2015), he was released.
That summer, Premier League strugglers Aston Villa came calling and in no time, was given the captain’s armband. Villa, by the time, were on a slump and even an experienced Premier League veteran couldn’t help his club in their demotion to the Championship. In only his second season (2016) with the Villans, Richards stared as Villa played 1-1 draw against Wolves in Steve Bruce’s first league game in charge before suffering another knee injury which ruled out to be the final roll of the dice of his Aston Villa career.
That Wolves game, till date, remains Richards’ final appearance and as things stand right now, the defender finds himself without a single game in 665 days. Earning £35,000-a-week at the club, Richards is currently one of Villa’s highest earners and the failure of making a single appearance in almost two years has seen the fans turning against him.
And now, Bruce has reportedly asked the new Villa owners to release him early from his existing contract.
A sad ending for such a bright talent!