Micah Richards and Ashley Cole Lead the Way for England Change

Andy BrassellFeatured ColumnistSeptember 2, 2014

Micah Richards is aiming to resurrect his career in Florence.
Micah Richards is aiming to resurrect his career in Florence.Associated Press

Transfer deadline day always throws up its little curios, and few were as eyebrow-raising this time around as Micah Richards' loan move from Manchester City to Fiorentina. English players moving abroad are still as rare as hen's teeth even if the City youth product always had a sense of the adventurous about him.

It is a fresh chance for Richards, and by goodness he needs to take it. Perpetually thought of as full of promise, he is not a kid anymore, having turned 26 years old this summer.

Badly compromised by his refusal to stay on standby for England's Euro 2012 squad (as reported by the Mirror), the talented defender's career has been in a tailspin since. It is jarring to recognise that he has made just nine Premier League appearances in the past two seasons.

Serie A presents him with an opportunity for reinvention. The move recalls the words of Ashley Cole this summer talking in the aftermath of his own move to Italy with Roma.

"Perhaps British players are a little afraid to move abroad," he told The FA's website. "They are accustomed to British culture and for them, it is more convenient to stay at home."

Some might accuse Cole, not for the first time, for having a brass neck. After all, he's 33 now. There was no sense of him taking such a gamble in his prime even if the opportunities were there to try his luck on the continent when he left Arsenal at 25.

Ashley Cole has advocated English players trying their luck abroad in recent months.
Ashley Cole has advocated English players trying their luck abroad in recent months.Alessandra Tarantino/Associated Press/Associated Press

Yet his words, contemplating the challenge "to face a new language and a new culture," carry resonance. If those thoughts, and Cole's continued flourishing at the Stadio Olimpico after a promising start, can inspire the next generation, they are useful.

Those looking towards the improvement of England's national side may watch Richards' progress with interest. On talent alone, he should have already nailed a regular place in the squad. In a vibrant environment under manager Vincenzo Montella, he has the chance to relaunch a stalled career and show frustrated youngsters that there is another way to learn and grow.

In short, Richards becoming a success in Serie A could open the door for others to follow. Moving promising talent from England's youth level teams into the senior side is a continuing challenge that will take time. It is clear that more players taking the plunge to spread their wings on the continent would be a considerable asset to national team manager Roy Hodgson in the meantime.

Richards certainly has the technical qualities to make it work, having come through Simon Clifford's Brazilian Soccer Schools, as noted by The Telegraph's Henry Winter. Adapting culturally can only help to create a more mature, finished player.

This is always the quandary for English football. The desire to improve coaching and thus player production feels urgent. To implement and affect change, however, takes time and patience that is not always evident.

In fact, England now have a great example for the benefits of footballing multiculturalism on their doorstep with the arrival of Eric Dier at Tottenham. English-born and qualified yet entirely a product of Portugal (and the lauded Sporting Clube de Portugal academy, which trained Cristiano Ronaldo), Dier is a superb melange of influences.

Eric Dier has impressed with his poise since arriving at Tottenham.
Eric Dier has impressed with his poise since arriving at Tottenham.Sang Tan/Associated Press/Associated Press

His finesse is outstanding in its new context; how many other English defenders can you imagine executing his dribble and finish for Spurs' opening day winner at West Ham? His entourage also understood his need to experience other aspects of the game early on.

On the advice of his father, Jeremy, Dier joined Everton on loan in 2011, as he sought to toughen up physically. That spell stands him in good stead now, as he adapts quickly to a new environment.

Hopefully, Richards can do the same—later, but better late than never—to pave the way for a more savvy, adaptable generation of English players.