The strange declassification of Micah Richards 5

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There’s something strange happening with Micah Richards.

The defender has just one year left on his Manchester City contract, it’s been made very clear that he’s available for transfer, and yet - from the outside - there appears only to be lukewarm interest in his signature.  In fact, a quick Google search reveals that he’s only really being consistently linked with a move to Newcastle - and for an English player, that’s about as dispiriting as it gets.

So what has changed with him?  What is it that’s so prohibitive about him?

The lazy answer is easy: he’s value has diminished in line with his declining squad status at Manchester City.  Having played over 150 games before turning 22, Richards has only appeared in more than 25 Premier League games once over the last five seasons and has been seen just nine times across the last two league campaigns.

City have ascended into the game’s stratosphere and he has been a victim of their rise - and he has been devalued by association.

Potentially.  Maybe that’s half-true.

There is a myth about Micah Richards which continues to be perpetuated, and that’s that he’s an injury-prone player who can’t be relied upon to complete full seasons.  Where that comes from I don’t know: a knee injury and a subsequent operation in 2012 left him on the sidelines for over six months, but aside from that his injury rap-sheet is relatively clean - there are sprains and hamstring tweaks, of course, but nothing which warrants asking any questions of his durability.

Between them, neither his lack of football or his injury record explain his devaluation.

Maybe the truth is relatively simple - maybe he’s just yesterday’s news?  We’re so used to seeing English players overhyped that the moment they don’t develop to their expectations we discard and forget about them.  Richards was an enormous prospect as a teenager, but because he’s disappeared from view it’s assumed that he has some kind of defect.

If I was a Premier League manager with a defensive requirement this Summer, I can’t really imagine a situation in which I wouldn’t think that Richards was a viable option.  Athletically, he’s almost peerless - he’s a physical defender, he possesses a freakish vertical leap, and he can play convincingly as either a centre-half or a right-back.  His form - during his fleeting appearances in recent years - hasn’t been the best, but don’t you asterisk that with his lack of regular football?

Maybe that’s the problem?  Maybe a lack of opportunity has been confused with unrealised potential.

It’s very rare that a defender reaches his peak in his early twenties, because the nature of the position implies that a certain amount of experience has to be acquired before a player can reach his prime.  Mistakes have to be made and learnt from, different types of opponents have to be faced…defending at Premier League-level is essentially trial by fire, and maybe Richards hasn’t yet had the opportunity to be burnt enough times?

Nine league games in two years.  How far along his development curve does anyone expect this guy to be?  That he is twenty-six, and that we expect to start seeing the fruits of potential by that age is really irrelevant - until a player starts to fall into physical decline, talent really doesn’t have a half-life.

A symptom of Richard’s declassification is manifesting itself at Arsenal right now; Arsene Wenger is looking to replace Bacary Sagna - who, ironically has joined Manchester City - and instead of pursuing an obvious option in Richards (i.e. another right-back/centre-back hybrid) he’s apparently willing to pay Newcastle £11m for Mathieu Debuchy.  Mathieu Debuchy?  He’s a French Glen Johnson - he cannot defend, is a liability around his own box, offers no kind of aerial assistance at set-pieces, and only has value once he crosses the halfway line.  As a pure defender, he’s inferior to Richards in every way.

Someone’s missing a trick here: if Micah Richards is given the opportunity to statt on a regular basis, the player he is and the player he should be will eventually become one in the same.  How frustrating it is, then, to see such a collective lack of faith in him.

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