Manchester City defender Micah Richards is reportedly set to become Tim Sherwood’s first signing as Aston Villa manager (the purchase of Scott Sinclair on a permanent deal having been enforced by a clause in the loan deal) early this week.
With the former England international having dropped off the radar in the last few years, we take a look at his career and what he could bring to Villa.
Richards came to prominence with a last-gasp equaliser at Villa Park in an FA Cup fifth round tie in February 2006 – Villa, naturally, promptly lost the replay – and subsequently getting rather carried away in the BBC’s live post-match interview, sending Garth Crooks’ heart rate soaring by dropping a casual F-bomb.
The following November he became England’s youngest-ever defender and he went on to establish himself as first-choice right-back for both City and Steve McClaren’s national side, as well as being nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year award in back-to-back seasons.
You could argue nailing down a regular spot at a pre-moneybags Manchester City doesn’t necessarily indicate class – his defensive competition in 2006-07 included such luminaries of English football as Ben Thatcher, Michael Ball and Stephen Jordan. Yet he started regularly for the majority of the four seasons following the takeover in 2008, and was nominated for City’s Player of the Year award in their first Premier League-winning season in 2011-12.
Years in the wilderness
Despite impressing at club level, Richards fell out of favour for England upon the arrival of Fabio Capello. The defender made 11 international appearances between November 2006 and November 2007 but has added just two more in the eight years since, although he did feature five times as an over-age player for Team GB at London 2012 under his former City boss Stuart Pearce.
After the Premier League win in 2012 he then lost his place for City as they began to strengthen their defence (as will happen if you throw money around at an astonishing rate), and he made just nine league appearances over the following two years, although this was perhaps partly caused by the knee injury sustained in October 2012 which ruled him out of action for two-thirds of the season.
A Brummie in Florence
In a bid to return to regular football Richards joined Fiorentina on loan last season, but this was a gamble which ultimately failed to pay off as manager Vincenzo Montella tended to prefer other central defensive options, as well as often employing a three-at-the-back formation which saw an absence of de facto full-backs.
The Birmingham-born defender was reasonably dependable whenever he was called upon for the Italians but it’s fair to say that the move abroad – itself a brave step that very few English players take in their career – didn’t really work out for him. He is now another player, along with the likes of Sinclair and Tom Cleverley (you’re welcome, Tom) looking to reignite their careers at Villa Park.
A calculated gamble?
Regardless of failing to secure regular playing time in Serie A, Richards’ time in Italy will have been a character building learning curve for a player who is still yet to reach what is traditionally seen as the peak age for a defender.
Although he will arrive on a free transfer, his wage packet is reported to amount to around £65,000 per week (don’t believe everything you read though), if true, it’s undoubtedly a considerable sum for a centre-back for a club like Villa. However, with no transfer fee attached and with the new TV deal that begins in the 2016/17 season – it may not be quite as unreasonable a sum as it sounds.
The fact that has amazed me most since the news broke of Villa’s interest in Richards is that he only turns 27 this month. This means Villa will be getting him at a stage in his career when, if played regularly, he should only just be coming into his prime, something which could be crucially important.
While there are still some question marks about his decision making and the fact he was bothered by occasional niggling injuries in his season at the Viola, as he has been in the later years of his Man City career, but aside from his lengthy spell on the sidelines in 2012-13 he perhaps has been unfortunate to gain a reputation of being out-and-out injury-prone.
With Sherwood reportedly interested in right-back targets including Burnley’s Kieran Trippier, it seems he could be planning to utilise Richards as the experienced partner in a central defensive pairing or trio, with Ron Vlaar and Philippe Senderos both seeming likely to leave the club this summer. Their exits would leave Ciaran Clark as Villa’s next most experienced centre-back at the age of 25, and though it’s all well and good boasting youth and promise in the squad, the signing of a player who has played both abroad and at the very top level of English football would be a huge boost.
The signing of Richards could be an astute and important early piece of business for Sherwood. Strong and capable both in the air and with the ball at his feet, once he returns to regular football for the first time in three years his increasing maturity and desire to reignite his career at club and, potentially, national level could and should see him become a vital cog in what will hopefully be a new-look Villa defence come August. UTV
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