This is why my views matter, by Micah Richards

I was England’s youngest defender, I won the Premier League with Manchester City, I was relegated with Aston Villa, I played my last game aged just 28, I’ve been racially abused… That’s why my views matter, by Micah Richards

  • Micah Richards experienced a lot during his career and is excelling as a pundit 
  • Ex-Manchester City defender is trying to improve further with his media work 
  • Richards is frustrated that he isn’t still playing and had to end his career early 

Heartbreak is not an obvious topic on which to begin an in-depth chat with Micah Richards but it is the reason we are here.

In good time, Richards’ booming laugh will fill the room here at the members’ club in Harrogate when he recounts anecdotes from a career that saw him become England’s youngest defender in 2006 — aged 18 and 144 days — and a Premier League champion with Manchester City in 2012. But, first, this story must start with the end.

Richards is now making huge strides as a pundit, his bubbly personality and considered views making him a popular presence on television. He will write a column for Sportsmail, starting next Saturday, and share his experiences of the sport that made his dreams come true.

Micah Richards experienced a lot in his career and has impressed since becoming a pundit

‘Anyone who knows me knows how much I love football,’ he says. ‘I can talk for England! I’ll watch any football on TV. Anything at all! But, you know, every time I see people playing football… I just get that feeling.’

His voice tails off. It is not so much a feeling but a yearning — the desire to kick a ball once more. His last game was for Aston Villa in the Championship against Wolves. It was October 15, 2016, and his involvement in a 1-1 draw ended in the 66th minute. Richards was just 28.

‘I saw Adam Lallana sign a three-year deal at Brighton recently,’ Richards says. ‘He’s 32, same as me. I’m thinking, “I should still be playing”. If it wasn’t for my knee, I’d still be playing at a high level. That’s not arrogance, it’s just…’ Another pause. ‘It hurts me. Everyone wants to be a footballer growing up, don’t they? You never want to give up that dream.

Richards admits that he is frustrated that he had end his playing career early due to injury

‘When you are playing, you don’t appreciate it as much as you should. When you tell me it’s four years since my last game, it’s absolutely heartbreaking.’

You suspect the wound will never truly heal. He has, though, learnt to deal with it and you only have to spend five minutes in his company to be swept up in his enthusiasm and understand why a media career has reignited his passion for football.

Richards has a dry sense of humour and megawatt smile. It has made him a popular figure on TV but there is more — far more — to him than a good nature. He has experienced it all in football, triumph and desolation; fame at home and uncertainty abroad. He has been racially abused as a youngster playing in Leeds where he grew up, a subject he dealt with brilliantly in this paper last Saturday.

There was a period after his career ended at Villa — he retired 12 months ago — when he wanted to retreat into the shadows, but after careful consideration, a chance to try his hand with the BBC and Sky made him think again.

The former England defender says there is a fine line of balancing enjoyment with insight

‘What is the next best thing to playing?’ he asks. ‘Is it coaching, is it management? For me, it’s media. I had such a dark time at Aston Villa towards the end that I just wanted to shy away from things and curl up into a ball.

‘I didn’t want to be judged, I didn’t want to be talked about any more. But then I thought to myself: I’ve made so many mistakes, maybe I can help people. I want to talk about my experiences, good and bad.

‘I feel it comes naturally. I haven’t got an agenda. When I sit next to Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker, I can’t match them! They are England legends! I just want to be the best I can be at my job, doing as much research as I can. But I never want to lose that fun.

Richards has impressed as a pundit and stressed his determination to improve even further

‘Sometimes I think people just want to hear me laugh and see me smile. There is a fine line of balancing enjoyment with insight. I don’t want it to be that people are saying: “Micah’s on — let’s see how many times he laughs”. I want them to hear my views and to listen to my analysis.’

For all that he is receiving acclaim, things can soon change. He knows this only too well and the challenge, in some ways, is akin to the one facing any young footballer who has just broken through and must then defy ‘second-season syndrome’. Is he ready for it?

‘I’m aware there will be more focus on me and people will be nit-picking now,’ Richards replies.

‘But last season was just the start. I was running on diesel then and now the super unleaded is in and the shackles are off! I can’t wait. I’ll just try to improve in every aspect in my own way.’

Richards grew up in Chapeltown, an area of Leeds with social and economic difficulties, and found a way out.

He wanted to emulate Thierry Henry, his hero from the Arsenal team he supported, and started at Oldham’s school of excellence as a striker.

‘I was a ball-playing No 9 or No 10! I had skills! Honestly, I did!’ he protests with another smile. But he matured into an international-class defender at City, after graduating from their academy with honours.

They signed him when he was 14 and his emergence was celebrated. He was a bridge between eras, the transformation from mid-table eccentrics to the powerhouse they are now.

Richards became England’s youngest-ever defender when he played against Holland in 2006

Richards, pictured with James Milner, helped City to win the Premier League in 2011-12

The 32-year-old says Manchester City offered him a five year deal but his ego made him leave

Get him talking about City and the discussion could last for hours. He had a front-row seat for it all, the Abu Dhabi takeover, the first silverware in 35 years (the 2011 FA Cup) and the day, in May 2012, that will forever belong to Sergio Aguero. One conversation is imprinted in his mind.

‘Richard Wright, our back-up goalkeeper, said to me, “Enjoy the moment, as you don’t know when it’s going to come around again”. I was looking at him thinking, “You what!” We had just won the Premier League! I’m thinking we’re going on to win another three, four or five.

‘I left City having won one Premier League. I’m not saying I got ahead of myself but I now know what Richard meant. My biggest regret is leaving City. I should never have left. If I’d looked after my body, maybe I could still have been in and around it. My ego made me leave Manchester City. 

‘I couldn’t stand being second best. They offered me a five-year deal before I left. A lot of people don’t know that. It was my ego that made me leave. When you have been first choice and then you are not getting into squads? I couldn’t deal with that! It was tough, so tough.’

Injuries — issues with a knee and a hamstring — were the reason he moved on after the Argentine Pablo Zabaleta had taken his place at right back. First there was a spell in Italy at Fiorentina, where he was a team-mate of a young Mohamed Salah, then it was on to Villa in June 2015.

‘When I signed I was told Fabian Delph was staying, Christian Benteke was staying, Ron Vlaar was going to stay,’ says Richards. ‘That was a decent spine. I was told we were going to sign Aaron Lennon, Emmanuel Adebayor.

Richards revealed that Emmanuel Adebayor was set to join Aston Villa but changed his mind because of a bad dream

‘Let me tell you this story: Adebayor came to the training ground. He had official pictures taken, everything. The contract was all drawn up, waiting for him to sign it. He doesn’t sign immediately and tells them, “I’m going home to have a think. I will be back up tomorrow to sign”.

‘You know what happened? He had a dream that night that it was going to be the wrong decision, so he just never came back to the training ground! Honestly! Ask Tim Sherwood (Villa’s manager at the time) about it! So I’m there scratching my head.’

He was left marooned. Delph went to Manchester City, Benteke signed for Liverpool, Sherwood was sacked after a ruinous start and the appointment of Remi Garde saw Villa hurtle into the Championship.

Things, in reality, were never the same after 2012. He went to the Olympics that summer, but a couple of months later he suffered a knee injury in a game against Swansea that persisted to the point that enough became enough in that Villa Park fixture against Wolves.

‘When I left City, they had all my medical records,’ says Richards, who made the last of his 245 City appearances as a substitute in the 2014 Community Shield loss to Arsenal.

‘They had the best physios. Villa had some good physios but City knew my body more.

‘If I needed a rest, I could have it. For my body, I should never have left Manchester. I was in the first team at such a young age, I wasn’t used to being on the bench. And then I wasn’t playing. That is the worst feeling. Ask anyone. Being on the bench, you feel worthless. You don’t feel like you are a footballer.’

Football, he points out, is an industry like no other. Ruthlessness, self-interest and jealousy are rife and since he has stopped playing, he has seen how the demands and scrutiny have never been more intense.

‘I’m so glad I didn’t have to cope with it while I was starting out,’ he says. ‘I did Twitter a bit towards the end of my career. I used to tweet when I was at City but now it’s brutal.

Richards is wary that people’s opinion of his punditry could change very quickly

‘People say don’t look at it but it’s impossible. One little thing can mess up your whole day, do your head in. If that’s me as a grown man, imagine how it is for a 15-year-old. I know it’s been good for me on Twitter recently, with people saying I should have a double act with Roy Keane. But as good as it can be, it can turn like that.’ There is a click of his fingers for effect.

His eyes are open to what life is like on the other side of the fence but it won’t stop him giving his views. He is itching to get going in the new campaign and, as much as he would love to be limbering up, this avenue isn’t so bad.

‘I will give an opinion but I am not someone who tries to wind up fans,’ Richards says.

‘People ask why am I always happy. Well, what have I got to complain about? In life it is simple: you work hard, you get your rewards. Let’s have some fun.’

Starting next Saturday read Micah’s brilliant new column only in the Daily Mail  

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