Name: Micah Richards
Date of Birth: June 24, 1988
Height: 180cm (5'9")
Weight: 13st 8lbs (86kg)
Position: Right-back, centre-back
Micah Richards was born on June 24 1988 in Birmingham, but grew up in Leeds. There he admired Arsenal from afar, but although Ian Wright was his boyhood hero it was as a defender that he cut his teeth with Oldham Athletic. From there he joined Manchester City’s famous Academy at the tender age of 14, and the stopper matured until the first team came calling.
But before his rise to the senior team, Richards would captain the successful Manchester City youth team of 2005-2006. His reign would see the Blues lose to Liverpool in the FA Cup Youth Cup. This success at the youth level opened the door for the likes of Tottenham, Chelsea, and Liverpool to begin inquiring about the young defender, with City quickly dismissing any advances in hopes of keeping their young starlet. Richards came on as a late substitute against his boyhood favorite Arsenal at the retired Highbury ground and would begin his successful playing career with the Blues first team in October of 2005. By February of 2006 Richards had forced himself into the first team holding down the foreign position of right-back which he would soon make his own. Scoring in the following Cup match after his debut against Aston Villa proved to then-manager Stuart Pearce and the City fans that Richards was here to stay. Matched with his solid physical prowess and attacking capabilities, Richard became a vital piece to Manchester City’s weekly game plan.
With a half a season’s worth of solid performances, Richard’s maintained his place in the Blues first team for the 2006/2007 campaign, leaving his 45 shirt in favor of the more senior number 2. Then manager Stuart Pearce was an outspoken fan of Richards who harped on the importance the young defender would serve to the side for years to come. Although they maintained a seemingly close and healthy admiration for one another, a substitution during a league match against Reading saw young Richards loose his temper and become physically and emotionally fed up with the young manager. The summer of 2007 would signal the ushering in of a new era at Eastlands where Pearce would be shown the door with the arrival of ex-Benfica and England manager Sven-Göran Eriksson.
With the exit of Sylvan Distin in the summer of 2007, Richards was bequeathed the starting role at centerback. Consequently the club would endure a massive facelift with the newly appointed Eriksson bringing in several new players including Elano, Vedran Ćorluka, and Martin Petrov. The newly bolstered side along with the more seasoned and young Premier League stars including Richards would see the Blues begin a massively successful and exciting start to the 2007/2008 season.
Birth Of A National Star
August 2006 also found Richards called up to the England U-21 side with his success at the club level, while a few months later with only 3 U-21 caps to his name he made his full England debut. His inclusion for the injured Gary Neville against Holland in November 2006 began Richards rave-filled yet tumultuous career for the Three Lions. Becoming the youngest capped defender in England history, injuries would keep him out of international play at the end of the 2006/2007 season as well as the end of the 2007/2008 campaign. However scarce his international appearances have been, many view Richards as a future face of the national team over the next decade. Along with the likes of Joleen Lescott, David Wheater, and Glen Johnson, Richards is seen as a potential mainstay for years to come, which has brought on the admiration of top clubs all over the world.
Scoring in a Euro 2008 qualifier in Israel reaffirmed Fabio Capello’s faith in the City youth, but Richards would find himself through injury and lack of consistent action left out of many of the most recent England teams as knee cartilage claimed the tail end of the 2007/2008 campaign.
Under The Microscope
The 2007/2008 season for Manchester City began with an explosion of wins, notably against cross-town rivals Manchester Untied which saw the Blues in the top three for the opening months of the Premier League. It seemed that newly appointed coach Sven-Göran Eriksson and new owner Thaksin Shinawatra had discovered the formula for success. The Blues players and supporters alike were elated with the possibility of finishing in the top four. Eriksson was openly admiring of the young defender he had inherited and was eager to fend off growing interest that had been reported from the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, and Liverpool.
However, the success of City in the league along with outstanding personal performances from Richards would be marred by a heap of media attention for a reported mobile phone sex-tape involving the budding star. This illicit act caught on camera threw into jeopardy the young England international’s football career for the Three Lions and with the newly appointed manager Fabio Capello. For some time it was reported the Blues Swedish Blues manager was none too please with his decisions Richards had made off the pitch and was considering offloading the star with visions of the ill-tempered ex-Blue Joey Barton appearing in the City hierarchy’ minds. In the end, Eriksson rushed to the defense of the young defender, chalking the incident up to lack of maturity, which Richards would echo in an act he would openly regret. This event proved, although Richards had proved a great deal in the football arena, he was till quite young and inexperienced as a professional.
End Of The Eriksson Era
Richards’ image would recover as the young defender refocused on his football, yet City’s season began a steady decline down the Premier League table. Dropping points over Christmas and fighting to stay in the top half of the table, Eriksson’s future began to look grim at Manchester City. Richards would sign an improved contract in February of 2008 tying him to the club until 2013 and making him one of the highest paid player for the side. The new deal was an obvious effort by City to keep the budding star at Eastlands and fend off the money-backed top four from poaching his services. Late February would also, however, be the end of Richards 2007/2008 campaign and would prove the last time the young defender would play under Eriksson as Richards required surgery on damaged knee cartilage and the Swede was fired at the end of a disappointing second half of the season.
The dismissal of Eriksson would prove to be the beginning of Mark Hughes reign at Manchester City. Like Richards youthful characteristics, Hughes’ managerial career is also quite inexperienced yet successful. In his short time with the Welsh National team and Blackburn Rovers, Hughes has become a top name on the Premier League’s managerial radar. Time will tell if Richards and Hughes young careers will mesh into greatness, but there is little doubt that Richards will have a long and successful football career both at the club and national level.
Will Ashwell, Goal.com