What happened to Micah Richards? 10 years on from defender's England debut
By Daniel Sandford
Last Updated: 15/11/16 5:35pm
It's 10 years since Micah Richards starred on his international debut against the Netherlands. We look at what happened next for the highly-rated England youngster - and how he has ended up fourth-choice at Sky Bet Championship side Aston Villa...
On November 15, 2006 in Amsterdam, Micah Richards became England's youngest-ever defender and earned rave reviews for a brilliant performance against the Netherlands, in which the 18-year-old neutralised the threat of then-Chelsea winger Arjen Robben.
Much has changed in the decade since for Richards, who, after suffering relegation to the Championship with Aston Villa, now finds himself down the pecking order at the Midlands club, behind the likes of Tommy Elphick, James Chester and Nathan Baker.
With only three appearances to his name this season - the last of which came against Wolves on October 15 and resulted in a knee injury - it is likely Richards will only be given an opportunity should injuries or suspensions occur.
A player once heralded as the natural successor to Gary Neville can't even get a game in England's second tier.
Bursting onto the scene, a teenage Richards made his senior club debut against Arsenal in October 2005. He made quite the impression both on and off the field when, after scoring a last-minute equaliser in the FA Cup fifth-round clash with Aston Villa in February 2006, he swore on live television. But, despite his F-bomb blunder, it was refreshing to see a youngster show genuine passion and his youthful exuberance only endeared him further to the City faithful.
Six months half price
Upgrade to Sky Sports to watch Man Utd v Arsenal on Saturday and get the first six months half price
At the time, Neville's position in England's defence had seldom been challenged. Glen Johnson and Charlton's Luke Young were at the time vying for the spot and Richards' rise to national prominence perhaps came too late, as he failed to book himself a ticket for the World Cup in Germany.
However, the Birmingham-born star would not have to wait long to figure for his country and was picked by Steve McClaren to play against the Netherlands. "He is an exciting player, the new breed of player," said McClaren ahead of the game.
"He is big, strong, athletic, very quick and has got a fantastic leap on him. He has come into this environment and is not fazed."
During McClaren's ill-fated tenure, Richards featured 11 times and even netted in a European qualifier against Israel at Wembley in September 2007. The future looked bright.
That same season, Richards had cemented himself as a first-choice member of Sven-Goran Eriksson's Manchester City side. In the absence of injured Richard Dunne, Richards became the youngest player to captain the club and, during a 1-0 win over Manchester United, he showcased his strength and raw potential in one of his best games.
Shackling Carlos Tevez and making a number of important tackles and interceptions, he took home the man-of-the-match award. "He was fantastic," said Eriksson. "I'm not surprised he's been linked with Chelsea, but I really hope we can keep him here because if we get him to sign a new contract that would be our best signing ever."
Richards' main strength is very much his physical strength. At 5'11 and 82kg, Richards is built like a light-heavyweight boxer - or to use a common parlance, he is a bit of a 'unit'. He's by no means a slouch, either.
However, by his own admission his pace and natural athleticism have been his safety net in tight situations while he developed the tactical side of his game.
"People forget I was 18 when I made my England debut," he said. "Two years before that I was playing academy football. You can't be tactically brilliant at 18."
Stuart Pearce, who handed Richards his City debut, explained the nature of his rapid progression: "Micah is one of those who came on the scene and had a meteoric rise. His career stopped a little and then went up again. He is a great talent."
I really hope we can keep him here. If we get him to sign a new contract that would be our best signing ever.
However, a turning point was to come.
The August 2008 takeover of Manchester City by the Abu Dhabi United Group saw an influx of high-profile players, but it was to be the low-key arrival of Argentina's Pablo Zabaleta - who signed a day before the change of ownership - that would have the biggest impact on the long-term future of Richards.
Four years on from his England debut, Richards had made just one international appearance under Fabio Capello's reign, coming on as a substitute against France in 2010, despite shining for his club.
However, City's historic title-winning 2011/12 season would mark the beginning of the end for Richards in a sky blue shirt.
City fell 3-1 behind to Sunderland at the Etihad in March 2012. With their title aspirations under threat, they battled back to draw 3-3. After the game, despite a collective collapse in defence, it was Richards who was singled out by manager Roberto Mancini for failing to prevent Nicklas Bendtner from scoring.
He suffered the ignominy of being taken off at half-time. From then on, he was replaced by Zabaleta as City went on to win the league.
Injuries also played a significant part in the demise of Richards, who was referred to as 'Swarovski' by Mancini, suggesting he was fragile like the famous crystals.
There was an accumulation of niggles which began at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, where he was injured in a clash with South Korea and meant he was not fit until October. Then, upon his return, he went down against Swansea clutching his knee and was subsequently ruled out for six months. He would play just nine times in the Premier League over the next three seasons.
Failure to reaffirm himself in the starting XI meant Richards was now third-choice right-back thanks to the consistency of Zabaleta and the arrival of Bacary Sagna from Arsenal. Two league games all season saw him miss out on a Premier League winner's medal and he was released by the club in June 2015.
The desire for first-team football took Richards to Fiorentina on a season-long loan, but shortly after he had arrived in Florence, manager Vincenzo Montella changed to a 3-5-2 formation. Richards struggled to find a role and, after just 17 games in all competitions, he signed with Aston Villa on a free transfer, agreeing a four-year contract.
Life in the West Midlands began with some promise. Richards was named captain of the club and led them to a 1-0 win away to Bournemouth in their first game of the 2015/16 season. But that was as good as it got for Villa, who failed to register another victory in the league until January 2016.
Eventually, with just 17 points to their name, Aston Villa exited the top-flight as the third worst team in Premier League history behind only Derby County (11 points in 2007/08) and Sunderland (15 points in 2005/06) and for Richards, who played 24 times in the league - his highest total since 2011 - it was hardly the return to English football that he would have hoped for.
Still only 28, Richards has plenty of playing time left. While it is unlikely he will ever be the powerhouse he once was, when he was touted for stardom, there will be plenty of sides come January who could make use of a man who never truly fulfilled his immense potential.
Upgrade to Sky Sports now to watch Man Utd v Arsenal this Saturday and get the first six months half price!