It’s been quite a month for Micah Richards: a couple of good games for England, a new contract offer from Manchester City and a chorus of unwavering approval from every sports desk in the land. A certain level of ubiquity is nothing new: Ashley Cole, David Beckham and Rio Ferdinand have all had the treatment in recent times. What makes Richards’ case unusual is the papers are saying nice things about him.
There has been an almost supernatural reverence for his physique. Bobby Robson in the Mail on Sunday marvelled that “it’s almost impossible to explain how high Micah can jump and how long he manages to stay up there”. Pictures displaying his rippling musculature have also been in plentiful supply: Gym Didn’t Fix It For Micah, purred the Daily Mirror, in a froth over his “incredible physique”. Micah pecs appeal, agreed the Daily Star, revealing that “his rippling physique is one of the most impressive in the game and has got the girl fans swooning”.
Not to mention middle-aged sports writers. In the Daily Mail, Paul Hayward wrote a fevered piece envisaging Richards “mastering Holland’s dream of Total Football”, marvelling at his qualities of “sturdy, rugged and quick-witted... velocity and dexterity” that “Sir Stanley Matthews himself would have approved of”. “He exudes a kind of joy,” Hayward concluded, tearfully. “In those moments, the game becomes a fairground ride.”
Blimey. What’s going on? Nice as it is to read anyone saying something good about a footballer, we may be witnessing the early stages here of a classic build-’em-up-then-eventually-get-bored-and-knock-’em-down exercise. Richards is certainly at a rare stage in his career: young, English, talented and as yet unbesmirched by anything unsavoury. Crucially, he plays for a club happy for him to talk to the papers, something he’s happy to do with an unvarnished naivety. “Micah Richards has told Gary Neville: I’ve done enough to keep your shirt,” blared the Sun, on the back of the comment: “I am not just here because someone is injured, I am here to make a mark.”
This sense that Richards is in some way unspoilt and redeemingly virginal seems to be central to his appeal. Some have chosen to represent him as a human riposte to England’s more familiar names, a broom with which to sweep away some of the tired old dead wood: “[With] the splendidly robust Micah Richards marauding down that right wing... the Gary Neville-Beckham old pals’ act could soon be consigned to history,” the Evening Standard mused hopefully.
His father, Lincoln, is in Africa working with underprivileged youngsters. So in the Guardian, Kevin McCarra, after noting that “the physical attributes are... impeccable”, hoped that “perhaps Richards’ career will be kept in balance by the understanding that there is life beyond the money-drenched football of the Premier League”.
Yes. Perhaps. But then, perhaps not, too. This is a rather weighty burden to place on the – admittedly rippling – shoulders of a nice young man who has shown he can play a bit. Will it last? More important, is it fair? The press needs heroes almost as much as it needs villains and it isn’t hard to see why so many have struck the same slightly giddy note. Will any residue of the current – frankly unrealistic – levels of goodwill linger when he moves to another, bigger club where he’s not so ready to talk; or when, as seems inevitable, he gets up to a spot of youthful high jinks, or gets sent off for stamping on Robbie Savage. “He is always smiling when he comes in, he has no problems in the world,” Sven‑Göran Eriksson told the People this month. Long may this continue.
From WSC 249 November 2007