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How did the future England captain end up without a club at 30-years-old?

Micah Richards is English football's forgotten man

666 days.

That’s how long has passed since Micah Richards last played a game of senior football.

And if the devil truly makes work for idle hands, the man once dubbed as a future England captain should expect a visit from the fallen one any moment now.

It ends with a whimper

Getty - Contributor
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It ends with a whimper

The hulking beast that was unleashed by Man City is set to be released by Aston Villa.

Richards has been outcast by the club since a 1-1 draw with Wolves almost two years ago, in which is suffered the latest in a long line of injuries.

The decision will leave the 30-year-old, who once promised so much, without a club.

So how did he manage to fall from grace with such velocity?

The England legend that never was

Getty Images - Getty
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The England legend that never was

Richards join Man City as a 14-year-old and made his debut for the first team just three years later.

Far from a scrawny teenager, the 17-year-old was a physical specimen from the get-go, with shoulders like boulders and thighs carved from marble.

A marauding right-back, he bulldozed all those in his path and quickly became a fan favourite in Eastlands, as well as a subject of great interest for neutrals across the country.

In November of 2006, he became the youngest defender to ever play for England when he replaced the injured Gary Neville for a friendly against the Netherlands.

He played a blinder, pocketing a prime Arjen Robben while simultaneously providing an option in attack.

False dawn

Getty Images - Getty
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False dawn

In no time at all he was a regular for club and country, with many tipping him for a prestigious career at both levels.

What he lacked in tactical awareness, he made up for in supreme athleticism.

He would recover from any positioning blunder with a burst of pace or by shrugging his opponent to the floor.

It seemed he was inevitable he would move inside and form a formidable centre-back partnership with Vincent Kompany.

And more than a few thought he had the leadership attributes to captain England at major tournaments.

The best laid plans…

Bradley Ormesher - The Times
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The best laid plans…

Richards was a regular as City won the league in 2011/12, with Roberto Mancini naming him as vice-captain in the summer as reward for his efforts, despite favouring Pablo Zabaleta towards the end of the campaign.

Then everything changed.

With five minutes to go at home to Swansea in October 2012, Richards collapsed with nobody near him.

The muscular defender lay on the turf as he clutched his knee, his jaw clenched in agony.

He left the pitch on a stretcher, huffing oxygen as a concerned Etihad crowd sounded their support.

An unsettling sight

Action Images - Reuters
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An unsettling sight

Richards played just nine league fixtures in the two seasons that followed.

Once his greatest asset, his body became a source of much frustration.


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He sought a rebirth in Italy, joining Fiorentina on loan.

However, a switch to 3-5-2 left Richards warming the bench, pondering his next move.

Forgettable

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Forgettable

Birmingham-born Richards joined Aston Villa in 2015 but couldn’t save them from a humiliating relegation, in which they acquired just 17 points.

After a spell in exile, he returned to the first team after new manager Steve Bruce promised him a ‘clean slate’ but yet another knee injury set him back further than ever.

Certainly, rotten luck with injuries has contributed to Richards falling short of what was expected.

But he is not entirely blameless.

Arguably Richards’ best ever performance came in a Manchester derby

Graham Hughes - The Times
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Arguably Richards’ best ever performance came in a Manchester derby

When asked about his partying in Manchester, Robinho defended himself by pointing the finger at Richards and Joe Hart as examples of team-mates who sought out a good time just as often.

“There was an image of me as a party guy,” the Brazilian told the Daily Mail. “And yes, I liked to party.

“But you know, the English boys were going out more than the Brazilians!

“Joe Hart was out all the time, Micah Richards the same.”

Richards was involved in a training ground bust-up with Mario Balotelli and was also criticised for swearing live on Sky Sports.

These titbits hint at an attitude perhaps not conducive with potential fulfilment.

Team-mates separate Richards and Balotelli

Bradley Ormesher - The Times
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Team-mates separate Richards and Balotelli

Many Villa fans believe that he failed to respond to his injury troubles with appropriate determination or professionalism.

There is a sense that he almost gave up, and resigned himself to a ultimately underwhelming career, content with a £35,000-a-week contract in the second tier of English football.

Where is the rage against the dying of the light?

He suffered another injury while playing for Great Britain at the 2012 Olympics

PA:Press Association
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He suffered another injury while playing for Great Britain at the 2012 Olympics

At 30-years-old, there is time for a redemptive end to his career.

Surely, a former England international and Premier League champion will not be short of suitors?

However, the 100-cap, armband-adorned Richards of our imaginations will never materialise.

Another would-be world-beater chewed up and spat out by football’s insatiable mouth.


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