Micah Richards suggested yesterday that Manchester City's decision to play him all over the pitch had contributed to the drop in form which has seen him fail to muster a single minute of play for England since Fabio Capello's appointment as manager.
Richards has not featured for England since November 2007 but after his most promising display for 12 months in City's win against Sunderland on Sunday he rejected suggestions that his game had started to lack focus and insisted that the more regular right-back berth he has recently secured has made the difference. "A lot of things been said about me not being focused on my game this season, but I have been," Richards said. "But I have been chopped and changed in my position, playing left-back, right-back, centre-back and even in the centre of midfield. I'm not going to make excuses but I'm happy playing right-back and that's where I'm playing consistently now."
Richards had the world at his feet when he became the youngest defender to represent England, against the Netherlands in November 2006. He became a regular fixture for the next 12 months but a combination of injury and his indifferent displays at City – Richards' positional play is a recurrent weakness and was excruciatingly bad in the defeat at West Bromwich in December – have seen Glen Johnson and Wes Brown step above him, with Richards stranded on 11 caps.
There is a recurrent theme about attitude where Richards is concerned, despite the bright, engaging demeanour of his. The word from City at the turn of the year was that Richards was spending too much time in the gym, building muscle bulk which was not helping with match readiness. Mark Hughes was said to have been distinctly unimpressed. But the City manager now says physiological factors of a different kind should be taken into consideration. "He probably still hasn't stopped growing and his body needs time to catch up," he said. "He is built like a sprinter and sometimes when he bursts forward he finds it difficult to get back in position quickly sometimes. We have recognised that and are working on it."
The central defensive partnership Richards has formed with Richard Dunne has not enhanced his form, either. Dunne's season has been one he would care to forget and his own palpable lack of self-confidence seemed to contribute to uncertainties in Richards. Hughes seems to have recognised this, introducing both Vincent Kompany and Nedum Onuoha alongside Dunne and freeing Richards for the right-back role in which he has been able to push forward. The contribution of Shaun Wright-Phillips has also helped, the midfielder always willing to push inside to create space for Richards and cover for him.
"I would be lying if I said that it didn't hurt me when I was dropped from the England side," said Richards, left behind in Manchester again as the England squad gathers this week. "I played 11 games on the bounce for England and I thought I played well in all those games and if I knuckle down, I think I can get back in there."
Hughes believes the football world has forgotten how the 20-year-old Richards actually is. "You always know with young players that you are going to have to take them out of the firing line and then regroup to go again. He has not had that chance this season because he has been asked to play week in week out and in a variety of positions. At some point there was going to be a time when his form dipped." Hughes did not entirely disagree with Richards' own assessment. "He has been asked to play week in week out and in a variety of positions," the City manager said.
City's convincing win at home to Aalborg in the Uefa Cup provided evidence that Richards was being encouraged to push on more and his display against Sunderland – scoring City's winner and securing a penalty which Robinho missed – called to mind some of the performances which made him such an exciting prospect in an England jersey. Wright-Phillips' own return to the England ranks will provide more self-belief that a 12th cap might not be too far out of reach.Reuse content