sport news Micah Richards: My views matter as I experienced so much during my career

Heartbreak is not an obvious topic on which to begin an in-depth chat with Micah Richards but it is the reason we are here.

In good time, Richards' booming laugh will fill the room here at the members' club in Harrogate when he recounts anecdotes from a career that saw him become England's youngest defender in 2006 - aged 18 and 144 days - and a Premier League champion with Manchester City in 2012. But, first, this story must start with the end.

Richards is now making huge strides as a pundit, his bubbly personality and considered views making him a popular presence on television. He will write a column for Sportsmail, starting next Saturday, and share his experiences of the sport that made his dreams come true.

Micah Richards experienced a lot in his career and has impressed since becoming a pundit

Micah Richards experienced a lot in his career and has impressed since becoming a pundit

'Anyone who knows me knows how much I love football,' he says. 'I can talk for England! I'll watch any football on TV. Anything at all! But, you know, every time I see people playing football… I just get that feeling.'

His voice tails off. It is not so much a feeling but a yearning - the desire to kick a ball once more. His last game was for Aston Villa in the Championship against Wolves. It was October 15, 2016, and his involvement in a 1-1 draw ended in the 66th minute. Richards was just 28.

'I saw Adam Lallana sign a three-year deal at Brighton recently,' Richards says. 'He's 32, same as me. I'm thinking, "I should still be playing". If it wasn't for my knee, I'd still be playing at a high level. That's not arrogance, it's just…' Another pause. 'It hurts me. Everyone wants to be a footballer growing up, don't they? You never want to give up that dream.

Richards admits that he is frustrated that he had end his playing career early due to injury

Richards admits that he is frustrated that he had end his playing career early due to injury

'When you are playing, you don't appreciate it as much as you should. When you tell me it's four years since my last game, it's absolutely heartbreaking.'

You suspect the wound will never truly heal. He has, though, learnt to deal with it and you only have to spend five minutes in his company to be swept up in his enthusiasm and understand why a media career has reignited his passion for football.

Richards has a dry sense of humour and megawatt smile. It has made him a popular figure on TV but there is more - far more - to him than a good nature. He has experienced it all in football, triumph and desolation; fame at home and uncertainty abroad. He has been racially abused as a youngster playing in Leeds where he grew up, a subject he dealt with brilliantly in this paper last Saturday.

There was a period after his career ended at Villa - he retired 12 months ago - when he wanted to retreat into the shadows, but after careful consideration, a chance to try his hand with the BBC and Sky made him think again.

The former England defender says there is a fine line of balancing enjoyment with insight

The former England defender says there is a fine line of balancing enjoyment with insight

'What is the next best thing to playing?' he asks. 'Is it coaching, is it management? For me, it's media. I had such a dark time at Aston Villa towards the end that I just wanted to shy away from things and curl up into a ball.

'I didn't want to be judged, I didn't want to be talked about any more. But then I thought to myself: I've made so many mistakes, maybe I can help people. I want to talk about my experiences, good and bad.

'I feel it comes naturally. I haven't got an agenda. When I sit next to Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker, I can't match them! They are England legends! I just want to be the best I can be at my job, doing as much research as I can. But I never want to lose that fun.

Richards has impressed as a pundit and stressed his determination to improve even further

Richards has impressed as a pundit and stressed his determination to improve even further

'Sometimes I think people just want to hear me laugh and see me smile. There is a fine line of balancing enjoyment with insight. I don't want it to be that people are saying: 'Micah's on - let's see how many times he laughs'. I want them to hear my views and to listen to my analysis.'

For all that he is receiving acclaim, things can soon change. He knows this only too well and the challenge, in some ways, is akin to the one facing any young footballer who has just broken through and must then defy 'second-season syndrome'. Is he ready for it?

'I'm aware there will be more focus on me and people will be nit-picking now,' Richards replies.

'But last season was just the start. I was running on diesel then and now the super unleaded is in and the shackles are off! I can't wait. I'll just try to improve in every aspect in my own way.'

Richards grew up in Chapeltown, an area of Leeds with social and economic difficulties, and found a way out.

He wanted to emulate Thierry Henry, his hero from the Arsenal team he supported, and started at Oldham's school of excellence as a striker.

'I was a ball-playing No 9 or No 10! I had skills! Honestly, I did!' he protests with another smile. But he matured into an international-class defender at City, after graduating

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