Steve Bruce has lifted the lid over the disappearance of Micah Richards and revealed last week that the defender was now back in training. A long term knee problem has seen the former captain sidelined for much of the season so far, although a return to action seems on the horizon sooner rather than later.
Bafflingly, to me at least, Bruce was quoted as saying that ‘Micah Richards is a stick-on if he’s fit’.
This raises several questions. Firstly, why? Perhaps more importantly, if he is such a shoe in for first team selection, then who makes way for him?
Richards was consistently bad when played at centre back last year. Completely devoid of the sense or awareness to play the position, the former England international would often abandon his duties and position in the heart of defence to bomb forward through the middle of the pitch. Huge gaping holes in an already porous back line were often created due to his kamikaze nature. For me, he cannot be trusted to play ahead of either James Chester or Nathan Baker. I would also rather Tommy Elphick than Micah Richards.
That leaves the right back position. This is where Richards made his name and impressed so much for Manchester City and, of course, England. However, even in this position, I’m not sure why Bruce would label Richards as a ‘stick-on’ to start. It’s true that the position has been a problem for us over the last few years. No matter who we sign, Alan Hutton seems to act as a grim reaper type figure and still manages to retain his place in the side thanks to injuries galore. Technically, the Scot should be fourth choice at right back. However, with Ritchie De Laet out until next season, there is a possibility that I would give Richards the nod over Hutton. However, more worrying is that surely the acquisition of James Bree this January was with the intent for him to come into the side and play from the off? What must he make of Bruce’s comments?
Either way, Richards is far from a nailed on starter for me. Whilst I don’t think he was quite as bad as Joleon Lescott or Gabriel Agbonlahor last season in terms of attitude, he certainly wasn’t living up to his captain’s role. Poor performances were the norm from him and, to be fair, most others. On top of this, he also demonstrated that he cannot take criticism. On one occasion, Ian Wright pointed out his defensive lapses on ‘Match of the Day’ following a dire 2-0 defeat away to Norwich City. Wright correctly pointed out that this was our captain and that he needed to be doing more. Richards made himself look incredibly foolish the next day in trying to defend his obvious flaws. Taking to Twitter, Richards couldn’t begin to understand and retorted with, ‘What has captain got to do with it?’. It is criminal that he even needed to ask and he couldn’t see what was blindingly obvious to everyone else.
There were several other social media faux pas including falling out with fans, labelling one a ‘clown’ and the ill-fated trip to Dubai with fellow rapscallion Agbonlahor. Richards exclaimed, ‘Excuse us for having a few days away after a long hard season’. This was in late March, with several games still to play. He had completely checked out mentally, which was bad enough, but most depressing was the complete lack of awareness in his response. If it had been a long season for him, where was the thought for the fans having to watch it?
Bruce also claims that ‘He has the right mentality’. Does he, really? I would like to know on what basis Bruce claims that because everything demonstrated so far shows that he clearly hasn’t.
His supporters will point to the fact that he was the only one to front up to the fans last season, an example being when he engaged with them at the FA Cup game away to Wycombe Wanderers. Well, big wow. I’m not buying it, I’m afraid. As team captain, in a team so pathetically poor and disgraceful week after week, he didn’t do anything miraculous. It was the least he could have done.
Richards had all the physical attributes to make it at the very top level and he looked like that would go on to do that for a few seasons at Manchester City. His power and directness were great to see and becoming England’s youngest ever defender was no mean feat. That will only get him so far. Richards himself has admitted that his physicality and pace were his safety nets. The tactical side of his game didn’t develop, in my opinion. It is no coincidence that Richards’ time at City was effectively over when the Sheikh Mansour regime took over and better players such as Pablo Zabaleta were gradually bought in.
I personally do not believe he has a ‘footballing brain’. Positionally, he is inept, especially at centre back. Right back certainly suits him more and gives him licence to get forward. Yet defensively he remains a liability. In a team as strong as Manchester City’s, these frailties could be masked a bit more. In a poorer side, he has been found out. And we are still a poor side even now. We cannot afford to cover his mistakes.
Bruce’s comments on Richards are both mystifying and worrying. As we have already seen this season, trying to integrate fellow flop Agbonlahor has yielded no benefits for the side whatsoever. The only accomplishment was to alienate fans. Similarly, Bruce talked up Agbonlahor just before he was thrust back into the side. Agbonlahor was built up as a man whose vast experience was going to be crucial in our push for promotion. We all know how that comeback turned out. Bruce lost a lot of respect for continually putting so much faith in a player the vast majority of fans could see was completely ineffective and showed no signs of improvement.
Richards’ seemingly imminent reintroduction is exactly the same situation waiting to happen. I see better options at both centre back and right back. Whilst I’m obviously all for Bruce trying to instill confidence into our players, he is playing a dangerous game by practically guaranteeing first team action for a player who has done very little, if anything at all, to warrant it.