In his recent article for the ESPN Manchester City blog, David Mooney suggested it may be wise for Manchester City to listen to serious offers for Micah Richards. Mooney is concerned by Richards’ recent form, and with rumours of interest from Arsenal persisting, he feels now may be a good time to cash in.
Mooney isn’t alone. Other respected City fans have taken to Twitter in recent weeks to question Richards. The Paris Angel, City's wittiest and most level-headed online presence, claims Richards’ performances this season have been “[very] concerning,” whilst Liam Wright, in the aftermath of the Sunderland match, asked whether his days at the club were numbered.
Is Micah finished at City or has the last 6 hours of travelling made me think in extremes?— Liam. (@mcfc_lw) November 10, 2013
Whilst I agree with the consensus that Richards is playing well below his best at the moment, I strongly disagree with Mooney that selling him is in the best interests of the club. If there is one player in the City squad with an excuse for playing poorly right now it’s him. He’s endured a nightmare 18 months, with injuries restricting him to just 13 appearances since the start of last season.
But let’s not forget how good Micah Richards can be.
He’s a player who made his debut as a 17-year-old against Arsenal in 2005; became the youngest ever England defender when he won his first cap aged 18; and then in 2006 was handed the City captaincy by Sven-Goran Eriksson, making him City’s youngest ever captain.
Considered one of the best defensive prospects in Europe at that time, he suddenly lost form under the tutelage of Mark Hughes (he wasn’t the only one), with lapses in concentration and poor positional play suddenly blighting his game, before returning to form brilliantly during the successful Roberto Mancini era.
In City’s title-winning season of 2011/12, Richards was one of City’s stand-out performers, regularly terrorising defenders going forward, and with a newfound concentration and positional sense when defending. He looked like he had everything he needed to be an excellent modern-day full-back.
Last season, with City defending their crown, it seemed like a fascinating battle between Richards and Zabaleta was about to ensue. Both were in fine form, and both were desperate to be first-choice, but a cruel knee injury suffered in the home match with Swansea halted his season in October.
He recovered in time to play again before the end of the campaign but managed just seven league appearances in total. Zabaleta went on to have the season of his life and was awarded the City Player of the Year award. It must have been painful for Richards to observe.
This season hasn’t been much better, with a couple of niggling injuries meaning he has spent more time on the treatment table. He’s fit again now but his form is nowhere near what it was two seasons ago. However, it seems unfair to expect it to be, given his lack of games.
His performance at Sunderland was shocking. He looked completely lost and bereft of positional sense—a return to the dark days of his Hughes-era form, but how can a player who had made just 13 appearances in 18 months be expected to show their best?
At 25 (we forget how young he is because of how long he’s been a first-team player), Richards has years left. City would be mad to lose a player of his age and ability just because he has shown a temporary loss of form after a terrible run of injuries. He’s been the heart and soul of City for so long and has enough ability to be part of the future.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @TypicalCity.