City should consider Richards sale

Posted by David Mooney

Warren Little/Getty ImagesArsenal are reportedly interested in signing Manchester City defender Micah Richards.

There is the very real possibility that these next 900 words or so aren't going to be the most popular in the history of Manchester City articles, but it's always good to start a debate.

Here goes: with the news earlier this week that Arsenal were looking to revive their interest in full-back Micah Richards, if I were in Manuel Pellegrini's shoes, I would seriously consider an offer from the North London club. Obviously, I wouldn't accept a low offer, but for the right price...

- Curtis: Where do we go from here?

It's easy to see why this would be an unpopular decision. Fans of any club enjoy seeing a player graduate from the academy and grow into a first team regular, and Richards certainly did that very speedily following his debut, when he replaced Kiki Musampa in October 2005 -- ironically, against Arsenal.

He scored his first goal in his fourth senior appearance, whenhe dramatically equalised against Aston Villa in the final seconds of stoppage time in the FA Cup at Villa Park, before even more dramatically uttering a four-letter word in a live TV interview afterwards. Following his first start in February 2006, he began 14 more matches that season -- missing just two games -- and playing in both the full-back and centre-back positions.

By the start of the 2006-07 season, Richards had moved ahead of Danny Mills and Sun Jihai as the club's first choice right-back, despite being of the tender age of 18. In November of that campaign, he received his first international call up from then England manager Steve McClaren. He became England's youngest ever defender by starting a friendly against the Netherlands.

He had played just 28 senior games for City -- making his rise to an appearance at the highest level possibly one of the quickest in this country's history.

Things hadn't finished there: When club captain Richard Dunne was injured during the 1-0 win over Aston Villa at the beginning of the 2007-08 campaign, City manager Sven-Goran Eriksson gave the armband to the youngster -- making him also the youngest ever skipper for the Blues. This off the back of a man of the match performance in the Manchester derby, where he'd kept Carlos Tevez firmly in his rear pocket.

The rise in fortunes, though, seemingly came too soon. In January and February of Eriksson's only season at Eastlands, he struggled for form. He was ruled out with a serious knee injury for the final three months; then when Mark Hughes took charge and Richards was thrown straight into the team, the Blues spent a season struggling to defend and the right-back was frequently caught out of position or daydreaming. Worse, he'd often head off on the attack down the right wing and then labour to get back into position.

This trend continued into Roberto Mancini's management of the club the next season and it wasn't until an FA Cup tie in January 2011 -- some two-and-a-half years after his performances had begun to wane -- that he seemed to find his feet once again. With the Blues struggling against Notts County at Meadow Lane, visiting fans got their first glimpse of the marauding Richards runs: he set up Edin Dzeko's equaliser with the first of his powerful drives down the right flank.

For a while, this looked like the turning point of his career. It was as if he had managed to drag himself out of his slump of form. He could time a tackle again. He could slide in and win the ball again. He could read the game again. Under Mancini, he hit the best form he ever had in his career -- he played a huge part in City's finishing third in the Premier League and winning the FA Cup, whereupon he then continued tradition by swearing on live TV again.

The year the Blues won their first Premier League title, Richards began the campaign as the first choice right-back. The power with which he stormed down the wing and helped out the midfielder in front of him -- be it James Milner, Samir Nasri, or David Silva -- was one of the driving forces for City's goal blitz of August-December 2011. He ended the season with another Manchester derby man of the match award (in that 1-6 demolition at Old Trafford) and with the joint-most number of assists for any defender in the league. And a league winners' medal.

But when he lost his place in the side in the final few weeks of the season due to injury, Pablo Zabaleta stepped in and took his chance. True, Richards was injured for most of the 2012-13 campaign. Had he been fit, though, the performances of the Argentine -- who went on to be the club's player of the year -- would have undoubtedly left the Englishman struggling to get into the side.

Since Richards's best form for City between the start of January and the end of December 2011, he appears to have regressed once more into the defender that gets caught out of position and goes AWOL from time to time. Where was he when Phil Bardsley cut inside from Sunderland's left wing last weekend?

Should Arsenal come in with a tempting bid for the defender in January, it might be the right time to accept the offer. There's no guarantee that he is fully recovered from his injuries of last season to the point that he can recapture that 2011 form, while he has fallen well behind Zabaleta in the pecking order.

He's certainly talented, but what if it takes another two-and-a-half year spell to get him playing to that standard again?

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