Richards wastes no time to stake a claim in his country's cause

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The Independent Football

Pace is one of Micah Richards's main attributes but, even so, he has made a remarkable rate of progress in his career so far. It is just 22 months, two weeks and one day since his professional debut and, already, he is talking about dislodging John Terry and Rio Ferdinand as one of England's first-choice central defenders.

"If you had asked me two years ago would I be playing for England now, then I wouldn't have thought it would be realistic, so you never know what the future holds," the Manchester City prodigy said yesterday when asked about the prospect.

In the heart of defence is where Richards is playing, and excelling, for City, and where he, and his club manager, a certain Sven Goran Eriksson, see his future for his country as well. One of the very few plus points for the national team – witness his first-half performance at right-back against Germany last month – it was little surprise that, despite being just 19, he was chosen to speak on behalf of the squad ahead of Saturday's "must-win" European Championship qualifier against Israel.

"It was a confidence boost and I will try to take it into this game," Richards said of the Germany match even if the result, despite optimistic but hollow noises about the chances England created, had the opposite effect to the national psyche. "Obviously it's good to hear nice things about you," Richards said of his own display. "But I've got enough challenges. Getting in the England team is hard enough and then I have to try and stay in there."

With Gary Neville still not recovered from injury he will remain at right-back to win a fifth cap against Israel, knowing it gives him licence to attack as well as defend. He has no concerns about the role and, significantly, does not regard himself as a stop-gap until the Manchester United captain, or "legend" as Richardshe calls him, returns. "If I'm playing 100 per cent then I feel I'm doing well enough to stay in there," Richards said. "If you play well enough you should keep your place and I think I've done enough to stay in there."

He has also done enough to attract serious interest from the big four clubs. Arsenal, the team he supported as a child, Chelsea and, most strongly in recent months, United have shown interest. City have been anxious to tie Richards to a new longer contract, despite him agreeing only last season a deal taking him up to 2010.

Richards confirmed that he intends to sign the latest offer when his father, Lincoln, a huge influence on him, returns from Ethiopia where he is establishing a football academy. "At the big four clubs you may get rested 10 games out of 20 so for a youngster like me coming through I think it's better for my England chances to be playing every week," Richards explained. "My dad said he thought I was better off staying where I am."

His decision has also, clearly, been influenced by the new investment and ambition at Eastlands. "Hopefully what we are trying to build at Man City is to get into the top four, get up the table and there will be a bit more money to spend," Richards, a product of the club's academy, via Oldham Athletic, said. Throughout a frenetic summer of activity he did not worry about his own role in the side. "Regardless of who was signed I would still fight for my place," he said.

Physically imposing and athletic – he played both codes of rugby, on the wing, as a boy – Richards has all the characteristics to succeed in modern football and his career so far provides hope that, despite the ongoing debate, England can still produce players of international note.

There is also humility. Born in Birmingham, he grew up in Leeds and Richards, who names Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane as the two players he admired most, knows he is fortunate. It is why he is also supporting the work his father is doing helping homeless children. "Obviously you only get one chance in life and if you can help others while you can you might as well," he said. "I come from a rough area in Chapeltown and a lot of people round there don't have things."

Richards stays in contact with his friends from the area, providing tickets to games and so on, and most recently met up with them when he attended the Leeds Carnival last week. He is also close to his older brother, indeed the two share a house in Manchester, although Lincoln visits "once a week just to make sure everything is okay," Richards said.

He should have no concerns. "For me, it's always been football," Richards said when asked if he manages to stay grounded. "And all I want to do is just keep going, and take things as they come."