Micah Richards: 'Guardiola has certainly evolved the game'

Former Manchester City player Micah Richards is delighted to see the transformation of the club under Pep Guardiola.

Manchester City FC legend Micah Richards with young footballers at the Cooperage ground in Mumbai on Thursday.   -  Emmanual Yogini

Micah Richards has been part of Manchester City’s Premier League-winning side in 2011-12. He was the youngest defender to represent England -- at 18 years -- and went on to make 13 international appearances, apart from featuring in the London Olympics in 2012.

However, knee injuries forced him to call time on club career -- he played for Manchester City, Fiorentina in Serie A, Aston Villa. In Mumbai, Richards had an interaction with kids at the Cooperage ground, as part of the club’s community initiative called Cityzens Giving project, conducted in association with Oscar Foundation NGO.

Richards is delighted to see the transformation in City under Spain and FC Barcelona icon Pep Guardiola. He feels young faces are making an impact for England in world football.

Excerpts…

The way Manchester City deals with the ball on the pitch, it appears to have changed the players’ outlook towards football and altered expectations from fans. Your views...

Definitely changed the way people look at football after Pep Guardiola came in. The Premier League is known for being very physical. Back in my time we have strong strikers, now it very technical. Pep has certainly evolved the game. EPL now is so fast, explosive. He has brought in technical ability into the mix and taken us to a whole new level.

Pep Guardiola came to City in 2016 and there was a change suddenly. How did the players deal with the ‘culture shock’ of playing under Guardiola?

Managers are different, try different things, so it (change) cannot be a culture shock for the players, they are good enough to adapt to the way the manager wants the team to play. The Manchester City players we have now, are one of the best in the world in that position. If you are the best, you have to adapt. It was difficult at the start, if you look at Pep’s first season (at City), he did not do that well, but after a while, the players knew exactly what he wanted.

The Premier League is popular because of the way clubs play. Now, the system is backed by England national team performances at the world U-17, U-20 and men’s level. What triggered this all-round development back home?

England went in for a little bit of transition, they were under-performing and the press was a little negative at the way things were. Now it is changing, there are young players on the full England national squad. We have five to six players in the U-23 age group, which is a major positive now. Back when I was playing for England, the best players were 28 to 30 years.

Your perception about the future of England football?

England has young players who can grow as a team, as long they keep performing consistently for the club side, the national team can only get better when they join the camp. Phil Foden won a World Cup for England (FIFA U-17 champion in 2017) Jadon Sancho for example has taken his game to the next level and hope, he will keep performing for a long time. England needs to show success in the senior level now, we did well at the World Cup 2018 and will continue the same way in the forthcoming Euro Championships. I am not referring to winning, but we have a better chance than we have had for a long time.

Jadon starred in a few games for England in the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017. He took a risky, bold move of leaving City U-18 squad when Guardiola was in charge of the first team to try his luck in a different league, in a different country. Do you feel more England football talents are prepared to take that step?

If you look at Manchester City team during Jadon’s time... Raheem Sterling, David Silva....you are not going to get ahead of them in the first team squad. No disrespect to any young player, the best decision for his career to go any play for a club where he can get to play in the first team. There is no shame in that, some times you have to take the long way around to develop as a player. The manager sometimes trusts what he has got, he does not want to take a risk (by including a young talent). Jadon did not go against Pep Guardiola by moving out, he just wanted to play and luckily for him, it has worked out well.

Do you think Jose Mourinho’s return to the EPL as manager of Tottemham Hotspur will change things a bit?

It is nice to have him back. Mourinho is a character and when he was at Chelsea, players wanted to be in the squad under him. It will be difficult for him, after being in charge at Manchester United and Chelsea, to manage Tottenhan Hotspur. If not this season, I am sure he will be looking at the title next season.

You played for England in the 2012 London Olympics. How was that feeling?

The Olympic Games was held in London, so nice to be playing at home. I got to play with Ryan Giggs and under Stuart Pierce  (England team skipper and manager respectively), we did not know what to expect and were just enjoying the opportunity. The competition as a whole was an amazing experience, though I wouldn’t put it as good as the World Cup. Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero got a gold at the Olympics (Argentina was Olympic champion in Beijing 2008 and defending the title at London) so countries do take it seriously.

South Korea earned a men’s football bronze at London 2012. Your thoughts on this Asian nation’s display?

England lost to South Korea in the quarterfinals on penalties, they were a very technical team, worked very hard and had good players. I am surprised more Koreans did not make it into the Premier League clubs after playing the Olympics competition in London. There is quality all round the world, you just have to be seen.

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