Amongst the furore of the more high profile Deadline Day deals, with Radamel Falcao joining Manchester United and Danny Welbeck shipping out of Old Trafford to join Arsenal, another move involving an England international player may have slipped under the radar, and escaped notice. Whilst Jim White was giving his masterclass performance juggling telephones, social media and outside broadcast reports, Micah Richards was on the move out of the Premier League to join Fiorentina in Serie A.
Seeing a player with a limited future at his existing club, seek new pastures may not be particularly noteworthy, but when Richards followed fellow England international defender Ashley Cole to Serie A, it spoke of a sad situation where a seemingly exciting English prospect has fallen by the wayside.
Still only 26, Richards made his debut for Manchester City in October 2005 as a 17-year-old. Before the following season had started, the potential of the then-teenager was evident for all to see, and a reported £5million bid from Tottenham was rejected out of hand, with a new five year contract being agreed. At the time, Stuart Pearce, then in charge at Eastlands, was moved to predict that Richards should be at the club for at least the next 10 years and was a captain in the making.
Despite proving his manager partially correct when he captained City in September 2007, the other element of Mystic Psycho’s prediction fell away as big money entered the club, rapidly followed by expensive imported players. City’s first title under the new regime in 2012 saw Richards nominated as player of the year. By the time they secured their second one in 2014 however, he had fallen so far down the pecking order at the club that he made a mere two appearances, and didn’t qualify for a winner’s medal. To be fair, the excellence of Pablo Zabaletta and a series of injuries had not helped Richards’ cause, but it quickly became clear that under the stewardship of Roberto Mancini opportunities for redemption would be fleeting if at all.
A similar situation appeared to be the case when the Italian was replaced by current incumbent Manuel Pellegrini. The adaptability to play Richards as a right-back, or in the centre of defence seemed to carry little weight in the recent transfer window, when the Chilean sought to add Arsenal’s Bacary Sagna and France international Eliaquim Mangala from Porto.
In between these times, Richards had looked to be the answer to England’s long-standing problem on the right flank of the three Lions’ defence, as to who would replace Gary Neville. An injury to Neville ahead of a game against the Dutch in November 2006 gave Richards his first cap, and made him England’s youngest ever defender. He played regularly under Steve McLaren, with his physical attributes of pace and power offering, and netted his first international goal in a European Championship qualifier against Israel. Following McLaren’s departure however, incoming manager Fabio Capello, perhaps foretelling of his countryman’s opinions back at Manchester city, seemed to not favour Richards and he fell out of contention, appearing only once under the Italian, and that was as a substitute.
Last summer, and indeed during the January window, Richards was linked with a move to Liverpool as Brendan Rodgers sought to strengthen his defence. Whether the interest was genuine or not is unclear, suffice to say however, that nothing came of it, leaving Richards high and dry as an unwanted asset at City. Reports are now suggesting that Pellegrini has made it clear to the player that he would be allowed to leave, and hence the move to Fiorentina allows the club to remove their longest-serving player from the wage bill, thus helping with FFP strictures, with the Italian club apparently agreeing to the player’s £60,000 a week wages.
Press reports suggest that Richards is looking on the move as an opportunity to revive his career and potentially win back his international spot in time for the European Championships. Although there are no specific details readily available, it is understood that Richards turned down a number of offers from Premier League clubs in favour of a chance to prove himself in Italy. The move is initially a one-year loan deal, but if the player can prove himself in the technical arena of Serie A, there remains every chance that a full transfer could follow. Reports suggest that an initial fee of £3.5million has been paid for the loan period, with a further £1.2million required to make the deal permanent.
I began this piece by saying that the history of Richards, a seemingly bright prospect that has failed to deliver its full potential, is sad story. It is indeed. It would be a particularly good denouement however if the player could resurrect his career away from the Premier League. At 26, he still has time on his side, but the clock is ticking.
(This All Blue Daze article was originally produced for the ‘offsidesiderulepodcast’ site).