Leytonstone boy enjoys Turkish surprise

Two years ago Colin Kazim-Richards couldn’t get a game for Brighton. Now he can propel his adopted country into the semi-finals, writes Glenn Moore
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Shortly after Colin Kazim-Richards joined Sheffield United Neil Warnock, then the Blades' manager, called him into his office. Warnock, who had taken something of a gamble in paying Brighton £150,000 for Kazim-Richards, told the then 20-year-old that he had talent, but if he did not improve his attitude he was going to waste it. 'In a couple of years' time you could be a top player, or you could be a parks player," was Warnock's typically forthright assessment.

Kazim-Richards appears to have listened. Two years later he is one of the three English-born participants at Euro 2008. Yet while referee Howard Webb and Simone Perrotta, Italy's Ashton-under-Lyme born midfielder, were expected to feature Kazim-Richards involvement is a bigger shock than Turkey's progress to tonight's quarter-final with Croatia.

World Soccer's Euro 2008 special edition, a well-thumbed copy of which is in the laptop bag of every journalist here, lists around 30 contenders for each of the 16 national squads. Kazim-Richards is one of a handful of players who are not mentioned. The Turkish correspondent does note, however, that coach Fatih Terim 'is renown for springing surprises'.

He certainly did that when he called up Kazim-Richards. The Leytonstone-born wide midfielder was not even a regular for Fenerbahce, whom he joined from Sheffield United last summer in a surprising £1.5m move. Kazim-Richards had little experience of the country, has struggled to acclimatise to life in Istanbul, and to the language. Interviews suggested he was, not surprisingly, still trying to get his head round the fact his social life now included regular Pro Evo sessions at the house of Roberto Carlos and he has since indicated he would like to return to the Premier League. Hull have been linked with a £2m bid.

He also had to convince Zico, Fenerbahce's coach that he could adapt on the pitch. The breakthrough was the defeat of Chelsea in the Champions League quarter-final first-leg when Kazim-Richards changed the game as substitute, injecting energy into Fenerbahce's play then scoring the equaliser. Fenerbahce won 2-1 and although they lost the second leg at Stamford Bridge Kazim-Richards' impact had been noted

CKR, as he used to style himself when at Brighton, was born to a father of Antiguan descent, Rodney, and a Turkish-Cypriot mother, Emine. It was intended to call him Colin-Kazim Richards but somehow the latter two names were registered with a hyphen instead giving him a different surname to either parent. In Turkey he is known as Kazim-Kazim as Turkish citizenship requires the use of a muslim name - similarly international team-mate, Brazilian-born Marco Aurélio, changed his name to Mehmet Aurélio.

Schooled in Walthamstow he was taken on by Wimbledon but released at 15 ('Wimbledon said I was too small, but without people telling you you can't do it you wouldn't have anyone to prove wrong,' he said later). Bury picked him up after he played in a trial match for rejects and Kazim-Richards made his first team debut in 2004-05. He was then signed, for £250,000, by Brighton with the proceeds of a competition run by Football League sponsors Coca-Cola. Kazim-Richards thus became known, to his eventual boredom, as the 'Coca-Cola Kid'. An irregular starter in their League One campaign, but frequent substitute, he asked for a move when omitted at the start of the 2006-07 season and was unexpectedly signed, on transfer deadline day, by Warnock.

An Arsenal fan he was given his first start at the Emirates. Again he found it hard to nail down a first-team place but did score a spectacular goal against Bolton. He also came to the attention of the Turkish under-21s and accepted an offer to play for them. That led, last June, to his full international debut, against Brazil, and subsequently to his move to Fenerbahce, and his appearance at Euro 2008. He started against Portugal, came off the bench to make the winner against Switzerland, and was introduced in time for the remarkable comebacks against the Czechs. His unpredictability makes him an ideal impact substitute but, given Terim's problems with injuries and suspensions, Kazim-Richards may well start tonight.

In four years, via four clubs, he has thus gone from League Two to the Euro 2008 quarter-finals, a stage denied to David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Raul. Still only 21 Kazim-Richards can, understandably, barely believe it.

Still, this is man who, when he joined Brighton for £250,000 at 18, said: "Pressure's good. Without pressure you wouldn't have anything to live up to."

Back then he was being compared to Bobby Zamora, who shone at Brighton before reaching the Premier League. He responded: "If I went to Inter Milan they'd compare me with Adriano."

A lack of confidence is not one of Kazim-Richards' weaknesses. He volunteered himself to take a penalty against the Czechs, should the game have gone to a shoot-out, before the teams were even named. However, he has learned when to listen to advice and there are clearly many chapters yet in his extraordinary tale. Another page could be written tonight.