The Sad Story of Micah Richards

Sunday 19th February 2006

It’s the dying minutes of the FA Cup Fifth Round. Manchester City have dominated the game at Villa Park, but have nothing to show for it. Milan Baros’ 72nd minute strike looks like enough to send the Villains through to the Sixth Round. City have one last throw of the dice; Joey Barton standing over the corner kick with the Villa box packed. Even goalkeeper David James is forward. Barton fires the ball into the box. Everyone goes up but one player rises higher than anyone else. The ball hits the back of the net. There is pandemonium in the away end. 17 year old Micah Richards has scored the dramatic equaliser.

17 year old Richards snatches a draw at Villa Park

And it didn’t stop there for Micah Richards. He wrote his name into Manchester City folklore with that goal and would go onto win the club’s Young Player of the Year. In an era where City were producing many promising young players for the first team, such as Shaun Wright Phillips, Joey Barton, Stephen Ireland and Nedum Onuoha, Micah Richards was considered a hugely talented player.

His following season would prove to be even better. He’d go onto be part of a strong back four with Richard Dunne and Sylvain Distin, a back four that’s solidity would save a disappointing City side from relegation, due to the strikers serious misfiring. Richards would even claim another dramatic last minute equaliser at Goodison Park.

Furthermore, the most significant part of his second senior season was his managing to break into the England first team. At 18 years old, Richards was selected at right back up against Arjen Robben and put in a strong display as England managed a credible draw with the Netherlands.

His following season got off to an amazing start. Under new boss Sven Goran Eriksson, Richards moved to centre back alongside Richard Dunne and would win the Premier League Player of the Month for August 2007. A particular display which caught they eye was his bullying Carlos Tevez out of a Manchester Derby which United dominated, but City won 1-0.

Following the takeover of the Abu Dhabi United Group in September 2008 and the recent signing of Argentine right back Pablo Zabaleta, there was concern for home grown players, such as Richards, that the big money signings would make them surplus to requirements. However, he remained an integral part of Roberto Mancini’s title winning season and was named Man of the Match in an imperious display at Old Trafford that saw City win 6-1.

Richards celebrates winning the Premier League in 2012

However, it would start to go downhill for Richards at City. As Zabaleta went on to become one of the top right backs in Europe and was seen as one of the first names on the team sheet, particularly following Mancini’s replacement with Manuel Pellegrini, Richards was starting to become the back up in his position. This wasn’t helped by persistent injury problems, with Richards only managing two league appearances in the 2013-14 season.

Despite this, Richards was given a chance to reignite his career. A transfer to Aston Villa, the club against whom he made his mark, offered him the chance to play regularly in the Premier League and potentially even force his way back into the England set up.

29 January 2019

Almost 13 years since Richards made his mark in English football. Aston Villa were relegated in Richards’ first season at the club. They’ve been playing in the Championship for three seasons now. Richards has not made a single league appearance for Villa in the past two seasons. It has been reported that the injury problems have forced Richards to retire at the age of 30 at the end of the season, following the expiration of his contract. A career that showed so much promise and did manage to feature a Premier League winners medal, an FA Cup winners medal and 13 England caps, has finished much earlier than expected. And not where it should have done. Touted as a future England captain. Leaving at age 30 having not played for two years.

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Manchester City 2 Liverpool 1

Liverpool’s unbeaten start to the season came to an end at the Etihad Stadium at the hands of title rivals Manchester City.

A hugely fast paced and exciting encounter saw goals from Sergio Aguero and Leroy Sane enough to beat The Reds, despite Roberto Firmino equalising.

Liverpool had the first meaningful chance of the game when Sadio Mane’s shot rebounded off the post, to lead to a mix up between John Stones and Ederson that almost saw the latter score a freak own goal.

However, the former Everton defender was on hand to deny his former cross city rivals with a goal line clearance that avoided crossing the line by millimetres.

Despite this, it was City who took the lead just before half time. The ever present Sergio Aguero managing to turn and score at the near post at the stroke of half time. The Argentine continued his incredible record of scoring every time he’s faced Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium.

The first half was also notable for a crunching challenge by Vincent Kompany that Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp said after should’ve seen the City skipper sent off.

The second half continued in the same vein with chances at either end and Liverpool managed to take advantage when the ever present Roberto Firmino ghosted in at the back post to give his side a crucial equaliser from Andy Robertson’s cross.

The momentum was with Liverpool. However, City, despite being without talisman Kevin De Bruyne, dug deep and retook the lead when the outstanding Leroy Sane shot across Allison, his shot rebounding off the post.

Liverpool continued to probe and an impressive save from Ederson prevented Mohamed Salah snatching a point for his side, but the win was no less than City’s hardworking side deserved.

Man of the Match:

Manchester City:

Bernardo Silva. The Portuguese midfielder was tireless throughout and his running and probing caused problems for Klopp’s side all night.

Liverpool: 

Andy Robertson. The Scottish left back was ever present, getting the assist for Firmino’s equaliser and giving a good account of himself against Sterling.

 

Manchester City vs Liverpool: Preview

 

In no doubt one of the highly anticipated games of the season, both in terms of entertainment and in terms of the race for the title, Manchester City host Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium.

A game that has, in recent years, gained a lot of media attention for the exciting, attacking football exhibited by both sides. However, this season this game has a lot more riding on it, as, at the midway point of the Premier League, it is these two sides that are looking most likely to go on to win the title.

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With City seven points behind Liverpool, it is a game that Pep Guardiola’s team cannot afford anything less than a win, whilst a draw would be a very good result for The Reds.

Going into the game, it appears that both sides injury concerns might be less of a problem than first feared.

Whilst Guardiola will have to make do without the injured Benjamin Mendy and suspended Fabian Delph at left back, the boost for him is that talisman Kevin De Bruyne is back in training following injury. In addition to this, German midfielder Ilkay Gundogan is also likely to feature, having missed the win at Southampton.

Jurgen Klopp’s men, on the other hand, look to welcome back ‘Mr Reliable’ and former City midfielder James Milner following a muscular problem, with Naby Keita and Jordan Henderson also set to return in the midfield.

Whilst January feels somewhat early to be talking about a title decided between these two sides, there is no doubt that Manchester City will need to claim all three points in this match in order to not fall too far behind their rivals in the title race. Tottenham’s defeat to Wolves last week, coupled with Chelsea’s lacklustre home draw to Southampton will give them a bit of hope that they won’t fall behind anyone else, albeit a win against Liverpool would be a tall order.

Despite a strong win at Southampton, City’s form has stuttered of late, whilst Liverpool have been in swashbuckling form, winning their last nine league games and playing with a ruthless panache that made City so strong last season. Mohamed Salah has overcome his early season drought to find his form that made Liverpool so strong last season, whilst Brazilian forward Roberto Firmino was extremely impressive in scoring a hat trick in The Red’s 5-1 win vs. Arsenal last time out.

Prediction:

Manchester City 2-2 Liverpool

Manchester City will approach this game with a great deal of strength and will be likely to dominate the possession. However, this could play right into Liverpool’s hands. Jurgen Klopp’s men have been outstanding on the counter attack this season and, with City’s recent defensive woes, the Liverpool attack can make the most of it.

The rise of the Northern Ireland football team

ni-men

‘We’re not Brazil, we’re Northern Ireland’ is the catchy, tongue in cheek chant that is regularly sung at matches by fans of the Green and White Army, but their recent successes have given their colourful and passionate supporters plenty of reasons to be cheerful in recent years.

For many years, supporters of the Northern Irish team saw very little to be proud of. True, they had their isolated successes in the forms of shock wins against rivals England in 2005 and a fantastic 3-2 win over eventual European Champions Spain in the European Championship Qualifying for Euro 2008, both games courtesy of Northern Irish icon David Healy. However, they’d failed to reach a major tournament since the 1986 World Cup and were considered cannon fodder for some of the bigger sides in Europe.

Despite this, they’ve got a reputation for having some of the most passionate fans in Europe. This was recognised in 2006, when the GAWA were awarded the Brussels International Supporters Award for their charity work, general good humour and, most of all, their attempts to stamp out sectarianism, which has been a big problem in Northern Ireland, due to the political climate.

However, what has really caught the general public’s eye is Northern Ireland’s team’s unbelievable transformation into a very apt side. Since new manager Michael O’Neill took over, they’ve both reached the finals of the Euro 2016 and gone onto to reach the play-offs of the 2018 World Cup; an outstanding achievement for a country that hadn’t reached the finals of a major tournament in 30 years and has a problem of a sizeable chunk of the country, both players and supporters, opting for the Republic of Ireland, due to political and religious beliefs.

Gary McAllister, chairman and press officer of the London Northern Ireland Supporters’ Club, believes that a big part of the side’s current success is down to the new manager: Quite simply the input and influence from our Manager, Michael O’Neill. “He’s a very impressive speaker, very switched on and seems to have an excellent rapport with the players. We could also see that the standard of our play had improved greatly and there was a recognition of the work Michael was doing away from the Senior International squad too. Our momentum has continued to build over the last three years.”

This has clearly shown, as the Northern Ireland team showed, despite a disappointing outcome, great promise during the 2014 World Cup Qualifying, with promising results against Russia and Euro 2016 winners Portugal. This would go onto two very successful back to back qualification campaigns.

McAllister is not alone in this view. Jordan Moran, who runs the Norn Iron Fans Twitter account, backs the view that O’Neill has been instrumental in the side’s recent successes. However, he also makes the point that a big part of it is squad harmony and playing people together who work well together. “You can see this organisation as NI hardly leak any goals if you watch them over the Euro qualifiers and WC qualifiers. The fact that 3/4 of NI’s back 4 (Brunt, McAuley and Johnny Evans) play for West Brom together week in week out is very beneficial to this.” This has been a huge part of O’Neill’s success, especially as he has clearly identified the strength of West Brom under Tony Pulis and how hard to beat they are.

There is also the element of the team working for each other, rather than being over reliant on one player. Jacob Graham, of Everywhere we go fanzine, believes that this has been very positive for the side and has made Northern Ireland a very strong side as a result. “The strange thing is that there has been no one player who has been behind the recent brilliant results, like Wales were propelled to the Euros by Bale, we’re generally a strong team.” This has shown particularly in these World Cup qualifiers just gone, as Bale’s absence has been a real hindrance to the Wales side that have missed out on qualification. It is a similar technique to one used by France manager Didier Deschamps, who once stated he’d pick the best team, rather than the best players. Since then France have gone from embarrassing themselves in disarray to a respectable World Cup in 2014 and were unlucky not to win Euro 2016.

However, one problem that the Northern Ireland team have that not many other countries do is the rule that exists between the Irish Football Association and the Football Assiociation of Ireland, who represent the Republic. As people in Northern Ireland are given the right to both British and Irish citizenship, players from the North are entitled to be selected to play for the Republic. Indeed, it was Derry-born James McClean who recently secured Ireland’s play off place with a winning goal in Cardiff. Whilst in recent years that hasn’t been so much of an issue since Northern Ireland’s rapid ascension, this used to be a big problem for the IFA.

Jacob Graham believes that this is fine, provided the player switches allegiances early on and doesn’t do it having played for Northern Ireland at youth level, as McClean did. “Personally, though, if a player wants to represent the Republic let them go, as a player who doesn’t want to play for your team isn’t going to put maximum effort in and is therefore letting the team down. The frustrating thing for fans and the FA is that these players take all the coaching and resources of Northern Ireland in youth age groups but then switch allegiance before playing for the first team. If you want to play for the Republic, fine, but switch early on.”

Nonetheless, despite this obvious drawback for the national side, Michael O’Neill’s management is taking the Northern Irish team places they wouldn’t have dreamed of a few years ago and has developed them from minnows to a side who can get results and are hard to beat, much like the reputation that their neighbours to the south have garnered over the years. There are still the play-offs to go, but, following another positive qualifying campaign, the Northern Ireland team have much to be optimistic about.

Follow on Twitter:

Me: @joedoherty21

NISCL: @LondonNISC

Norn Iron Fans: @GAWAfans

EWG Fanzine: @EverywhereWeGo_

Jordan Farren (Proofreader): @Lapxrte

Is the Manchester Derby as exciting as it could be?

derby-wembley

One of the most eagerly anticipated games of the Premier League season, for neutral and supporter alike, is the Manchester Derby. Always a passionate rivalry between Manchester’s two clubs; a rivalry that has intensified in recent years since Manchester City’s takeover, which has allowed them to compete with Manchester United, who for many years were streets ahead of City. However, for such a big rivalry between two of Britain’s top sides, the matches between the two sides have often not been the best games of football and looking back there have been few genuinely exciting games in recent years.

Of course, there was the 4-3 Manchester United victory in September 2009, which was seen by many people on both sides of the divide as a potential turning point for how the fixture is viewed. Yes, as usual, United had won, but City had shown a lot of fight and, apart from a last minute winner for United, came very close to matching their rivals. From a United point of view, Jordan Farren of UTD Report and Vavel, believes that the 2009/10 season was a fantastic advert for this fixture, as it brought this game, as well as an exciting two-legged League Cup semi final, in which City won the first leg, but United fought back to win the second, not to mention late drama in the fixture at the Etihad Stadium, when a last minute Paul Scholes goal stole the points for United. As a City fan, these games were, of course, painful; to see my side lose three times to our biggest rivals in late circumstances is never easy to watch. However, these games certainly showed that City could pose a credible threat to United.

city-flag

Despite this, since this season, the games have often lacked intensity. Of course, both sides have had games they’ve enjoyed. Manchester City fans fondly remember comprehensive beatings of United in recent years, such as the 1-6 win at Old Trafford in October 2011 and the 4-1 home win in September 2013, whilst United fans will fondly remember the 4-2 home win in 2015, in which they completely outclassed City, not to mention Marcus Rashford’s Manchester Derby debut, in which he outplayed veteran Martin Demichelis to earn United a win at the Etihad Stadium. However, none of these games were genuinely hard fought games of football with both teams giving the other something to worry about, these were often comprehensive beatings, which, whilst thoroughly enjoyable for the fans, weren’t especially exciting for neutrals. Whilst there have been a handful of exiciting games – United’s 3-2 win at the Etihad in December 2012 sticking out as an outstanding game of football – the fixture doesn’t always generate great games of football; something both the North London Derby and the Merseyside Derby has done on numerous occasions.

utd-fans

So what for the future? The appointment of Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho, two managers with a successful past and an intense rivalry to boot, has the potential to give this fixture a new lease of life. Certainly, September’s fixture, in which City narrowly won 2-1, was a significantly more interesting game to watch than either of the previous season’s games. However, both managers also have a reputation for leaving clubs after not many years have passed. In addition to this, the fixture could also struggle to improve as the rivalry between the fans has one significant weakness: only one half of the city views it as the biggest game of the season. It is no secret that, whilst United fans have certainly taken more notice of City recently, that their biggest rivalry lies with Liverpool FC and that is the game that both they and the team turn up for most. Jordan Farren believes that, as a result of this, the game is highly unlikely to surpass El Classico in Spain or The Old Firm Derby in Scotland in terms of rivalry.

What do you think? Do you believe that this Derby has been less exciting in recent years than it should have been or do you think that this game is still one of the most exciting in the Premier League?

 

Follow me on Twitter – @joedoherty21

Follow Jordon on Twitter – @Lapxrte

Wolfe Tones visit Manchester

wolfe-tones

On 9th November 2016, Irish Folk legends The Wolfe Tones played a gig at St Kentigern’s Irish Social Club in Southern Manchester as they have been doing for the previous 12 years. However, this year’s performance was even more significant, as it was a part of the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising, in which Irish rebels seized the GPO and began to gain independence from Britain. This tour has gone all over the country, from Glasgow to Manchester, both cities with strong Irish communities, and even going out as far as Hamburg, where the band are popular, due to the friendship between FC St Pauli of Hamburg and The Wolfe Tones’ own club, Celtic FC.

There is no doubt some controversy over the sort of songs that The Wolfe Tones sing, as they are rebel songs that are linked with The Troubles in Northern Irish and are from a republican point of view, with songs such as “Go on home British Soldiers” and “Bloody Sunday” clearly being in favour of the IRA. However, Kevin Fitzpatrick, the proprietor of St Kentigern’s describes them in a more positive light and believes that their music “goes a long way in telling the story of Ireland, especially the Troubles”.

There is no doubt that previously, an Irish republican band wouldn’t have performed in Manchester without serious backlash, especially after the Arndale Centre was bombed in 1996 by the IRA. However, since the Good Friday Agreement, this sort of gig is less of a political statement these days and appears more of a social occasion. Certainly on the night, everyone was enjoying a drink and everybody there was very hospitable and friendly, not the hostile atmosphere you might expect at a gig that would’ve been making a political statement.

Fitzpatrick also believes that this sort of music is important in peace time between the UK and Ireland, as the reporting of the events comes from less of an angle these days and looks at The Troubles from both sides, especially after the Savile Inquiry, which shows how British Soldiers killed 14 unarmed protesters in Derry. “Investigations like Bloody Sunday are now closer to the truth so people understand the songs more as they do tell the story of our lives way back then – but people are so happy with the truth now and the peace – long may it continue,” being Fitzpatrick’s view.

Personally, despite the songs having connotations certain people might find offensive or unsavoury, I found the performance to be very good, especially when the age of the band members is taken into account, and the people at the gig to be very friendly and welcoming. In addition to this, I do not believe this is made for a political statement to extent it used to and is now just a chance for people to have an enjoyable social occasion.

This map shows whereabouts the Wolfe Tones have been on this tour: