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With Nathaniel Clyne and Kyle Walker, and John Stones also on hand to shuffle across from centre-half if required, Roy Hodgson will be comfortable at right-back when he comes to picking his England squad for this summer’s European Championships.
Walker’s Tottenham team-mate Kieran Trippier may occupy Hodgson’s thoughts for cover options, as will possibly Danny Simpson, one of Claudio Ranieri’s renaissance men at Leicester City. Certain to be absent from Hodgson’s plans though will be Micah Richards, formerly England’s great new hope at full-back, now of Aston Villa and his country’s forgotten man.
Richards chose to play in the 2012 Olympic Games for Stuart Pearce’s Great Britain instead of taking up a place on Hodgson’s standby list in his initial 30-man squad for the 2012 European Championships and the 27 year old has not been capped since.
At the time he was a Premier League winner for Manchester City, where he had been nominated for player of the year having racked up five assists, more than any other defender that season.
The winner’s medal he got that season formed a prelude to a steep fall from grace however as a knee operation in October 2007 meant he would only make a total of 18 appearances for City, with his spot taken by Pablo Zabaleta, across the following two campaigns.
Entering into the last year of his contract at Eastlands, Richards decided to do what so few English players do and chose to head abroad to ply his trade. The right-back was 26 when he went to Fiorentina on a season-long loan, with City’s offer of a new deal making that move look even more admirable; he was a player not content to sit in his comfort zone awaiting a fresh payday, nor was he an ageing force leaving England for a pre-retirement wind-down in more exotic climbs, he was in his prime.
“But I just couldn’t get my head around being second choice. I’d rather play for a lesser team. I know a lot of players would just take the money at City” ,Richards said. “But I’d rather take a pay cut and play every week. Ideally you want to be playing at the highest level, in the Champions League and so on”.
It was the Europa League for Richards at Fiorentina, making it to the semi-finals before being dumped out by Sevilla.
Richards speaks about how he grew to be more tactically aware during his time in Italy and how it was a success to sample another city culture, with his apartment overlooking Ponte Vecchio and his afternoons spent walking down to Piazza del Duomo. He found playing time sparse however with just seven starts coming in the league and 19 appearances in total across all competitions as he became a victim of manager Vicenzo Montella’s switch to a three-man defence.
“I see that as a real shame because I have really settled here” he said, “I love the lads. I love the training. The city is absolutely amazing.”
It is a stark contrast between the sun swept reaches of Tuscany and the situation in which Richards found himself in early January where he was being confronted by angry Aston Villa fans in the driving rain after his team’s draw at Wycombe in the FA Cup, but it is testament to the defender’s commitment to the cause that he saw fit to do it.
He is Villa’s captain and still believes the Midlands club can stay in the Premier League despite being 8 points adrift of safety at the bottom of the table having won just three times so far this term.
Originally signed to play in the centre by Tim Sherwood, he has moved back to his more familiar role of powering full-back this month under his successor Remi Garde and, in a multi-national squad with the likes of 23 year old Jores Okore and the 21 year old Jordan Amavi alongside him in defence, his presence and faith in Villa’s escape plan will be crucial if they are to achieve the miraculous.
So too will his commitment, nobody has made more blocks or clearances at Villa than Richards, and the nous, only Idrissa Gueye has managed more interceptions, he has picked up from his years spent at the highest level.
Him and Joleon Lescott are the elder statesmen in Villa’s back four and will have to summon every year of their collective experience if they are to steer Garde’s side away from the drop.
The clean sheet at home to Norwich at the weekend was a start even if a lack of concentration from Richards, to which he is pertinently still prone, nearly allowed Dieumerci Mbokani to score from a cross.
Still the shut out would have satisfied Richards who was heavily criticised for a woeful performance in the reverse fixture at Carrow Road in late December when he failed to track Jonny Howson’s run for the Canaries’ first goal.
Enlightening experience, but still rash decision-making
A spell in Italy may have been enlightening but Richards still remains rash on occasion, still a powerhouse who can find himself often relying on more brawn than brain. A shift to right-back will help to harness those traits and to render the errors less costly, and may just help give Villa a slim chance of achieving the impossible.
Even that represents better odds than Richards getting into Hodgson’s squad, the player who is still England’s youngest ever defender currently on the unorthodox route down in his continuous desire to play.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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