Richardson: 'It's rubbish to say we were happy Roy left'

After weight issues, Kieran Richardson is transformed at Sunderland and wants to play for England again. However, he still misses his old manager
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This, as they say, is an interview of two halves. The first was on 11 Novem-ber at the Stadium of Light, where Kieran Richardson and Roy Keane helped present awards to children and young adults from Sunderland who have altered their behaviour, and their lives. Keane ended the Premier League's Creating Chances ceremony with a brief address about the significance of "attitude" in personal transformation. Keane's beard was beginning to thicken then.

The second half was two Fridays ago at the Sunderland training ground. Keane and his beard had left the building. In the intervening 31 days, change remained the dominant theme at Sunderland. Three weeks after Keane saluted the attitude of others, he changed his mind about being the manager. The ramifications of that tremor are still being felt on Wearside. "It's not been a good time for the club, losing a manager," Richardson said, in the second half. "It's weird how things turn round so quickly. A month ago it was so different.

"I didn't see it coming at all. Because the League is so tight, two wins and you're back in mid-table, you don't think Roy Keane will leave. But he had his own thing going on, his family, his decision is for him.

"I texted him, wished him all the best. He said, 'Keep your head down, good things will happen for you'. It's good to hear from a man like that. Things have been going well for me this season, and a big inspiration for that were the words of Roy Keane. I was gutted that he left, he brought me here.

"I don't think anyone saw it coming. The players were shook up about it. There were rumours about some players being happy about it; that's a load of rubbish. He did so much, got us in the Premiership. Sunderland fans will remember that."

Richardson said he did not even see it coming during Keane's final game, the 4-1 home loss to Bolton. "Weird. We were 1-0 up and I thought, 'This is it'. Then it changed so quickly. We were 3-1 down at half-time. He [Keane] was upset at half-time but he thought we could get back in the game. Then I got booked, my head had gone."

So had Keane's. Due to the yellow card, Richardson, like Keane, missed the subsequent return to Manchester United. Richardson was "devastated". A talented artist – "Sir Alex Ferguson has my art on his office wall. Well, I don't know if he has still got it. If not then I want it back!" – it was at Old Trafford in 2001 that Richardson first encountered Keane, so their relationship had time on its side. Seventeen month ago, Keane paid £5.5 million to United for Richardson.

However, by Richardson's admission, he then had "a bad season" and at the end of it Keane spoke to him about the possibility of an exit. Attitude and change were the themes.

"Sometimes it takes a player to leave a big club like Sunderland to realise what they need to do," Keane said of Richardson in November. "It can be cruel. But for Kieran, in a strange way, last year was a big plus. The penny dropped. He has grown up, that's a good way of putting it."

Freshly enamoured, Keane talked of Richardson in England terms again. Richardson, 24, has eight caps. Keane also said the midfielder was captaincymaterial, and the caretaker manager, Ricky Sbragia, made him captain for the 4-0 win over West Brom last weekend. He also wore the armband in yesterday's 4-1 defeat of Hull.

It was evidence of a transformation. Richardson outlined that graphically. "At one stage last season I was 84kg," he said, "now I'm 74kg. I'm 11-and-a- half stone. That's a lot of hard work. Maybe last season I wouldn't have had the energy to run back and make tackles, but obviously now I am a super-supreme athlete!"

In the summer Richardson called a friend, the 400-metre runner Neil Simpson, and they went to Brockwell Park in south-west London. "I remember the [Keane] meeting very well," Richardson said. "He told me what it takes and said that I had to fulfil my potential. In the summer I workedreally hard, got back to my usual weight, got very fit. I trained over the summer, so I was much fitter than everyone else, and I still feel in great condition. I want to get back to where I was. Not so long ago I was playing for England. I want to get back to those heights.

"Over the summer I was running up hills. I trained with Neil Simpson, the fittest guy I know. I went to him and said, 'Neil, I want to sweat, to work on my fitness.' He got me in shape. I had one holiday, the rest [of the time] I was training, morning and night-time, very disciplined. I cut down on my eating, lost weight. It paid off. When you feel like you're losing it, you'll do anything to get it back."

Richardson's work continued when he returned to his apartment in Sunderland. Locals bear witness to his regime à la Rocky. "I do live in a block of flats and I have run up and down the stairs," he said, "but I don't know if people have seen me." They have. "At the end of last season I started to run around the streets in Sunderland, just run. People would see me and shout things out, but I just waved and kept on running."

Sunderland fans will testify that the appearance has not been deceptive. Once derided as a member of the Baby Bentley generation of footballers, Richardson now looks a leader. His winner against Newcastle will not be forgotten. Has he, in Keane's phrase, grown up? "Definitely. I'm 24 now and you do grow. Your attitudes change. My aspect on life is different now, definitely. I'm more mature. Sometimes you can get distracted when you play football, take it for granted.

"Last season there were some training sessions where I might have gone through the motions. The gaffer [Keane] saw that. He wasn't happy. The Baby Bentley tag was harsh, because I have never had a Bentley. Maybe it was because I was a young lad from London. But the people who really know me know that I am not like that."

Today's matches

Manchester United v Liga de Quito (10.30am, Five)

A badly timed interruption to their title challenge or a prestigious event offering United the opportunity to become proud world champions? Take your pick, after reading The Last Word (page 24) and watching United take on Ecuador's finest.

Arsenal v Liverpool (4pm, Sky Sports 1)

After a Saturday programme without any of the Big Four (Chelsea play at Everton tomorrow), a chance for one of this pair to make hay. Still no Fernando Torres for Liverpool, who don't want to be left relying on Everton to do them a favour.

Newcastle United v Tottenham Hotspur (3pm)

In the game of snakes and ladders that is the Premier League this season, the first club and the current club of Joe Kinnear attempt to send one another back a few squares while climbing a couple more rungs themselves. Hard to call.

West Bromwich Albion v Manchester City (1.30pm, Sky Sports 1)

Another six-pointer. City's voluble executive chairman, Garry Cook, claimed in midweek that he was "really pleased with how things are going", which may put him in a minority. Big chance for Albion today; and there may not be many more.

Steve Tongue