Exclusive: Micah Richards on mental health, racism and new Manchester City star Grealish

Former England defender reveals he battles issues of his own as injury wrecked the last seasons of his career

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After more than 240 games for Manchester City and 13 for England, Micah Richards now relishes shining a spotlight on football as one of the game's leading pundits.

An athletic defender, Richards also spent time in Serie A with Fiorentina, and then at Aston Villa, where a knee injury wrecked his stay, and he was forced to retire in 2019 at the age of 31.

Now he is relishing the start of the new football season, the Premier League kicking off with Brentford v Arsenal on Friday, and Tottenham v Manchester City the pick of the weekend games on Sunday.

With mental health currently at the forefront of sport, Richards admits he had his own troubled times towards the end of his career.

“Those last two years; I was not in a good place,” he recalled.

“It wasn’t Villa’s fault, they were good to me, but I was going in every day doing gym work with no real prospect of playing and I was still expected to be that senior pro in the dressing room who got everyone else going.

"But after the lads had gone out training I was alone with no one to pick me up.

“There were times when I felt a bit worthless and I struggled. I kept telling myself that I had no right to feel that way after what I had achieved, and what I had in terms of material things.

"There are millions of people worse off than me with much worse problems but mental health issues don’t recognise age, colour, creed or wealth. They can strike anyone, any time and that’s why I’m glad people are becoming more aware and open about them.

“One of the big turning points was when a City fan sent me a message that reminded me how much I’d accomplished in over a decade. That bit of random kindness stayed with me.”

Now 33, Richards has brought his dynamism to punditry and was barely off television screens in the UK and USA last season. There will be more of the same this time around.

Fresh from the gym, Richards was happy to talk about fatherhood, his career, his friendship with Manchester United legend Roy Keane, and learning on the job from Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer.

Richards believes Jack Grealish will be a hit at Manchester City.

Unsure of what to do when his Villa contract ended, Richards thought about going full-time into his own successful property business, but took a different turn.

“There were offers from the BBC while I was still playing but I felt that wasn’t right. After I stopped, I revisited that proposal and Sky came in a couple of months later. I absolutely love the punditry but I told both them and CBS in America that I would only do it if I could be myself and say exactly what I thought.

“I am just me; what you see on the screen is me. I watch games every single day from all over the world. Viewers and fans want a point of view that they can understand and debate among themselves, I think they want honesty.

“I get on well with all the pundits. At the BBC Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer made me earn my stripes for sure. There has to be chemistry or it won’t work out for the most important person, and that’s the viewer.

“The relationship with Roy Keane is real too. The road trip we made in the summer was brilliant. I absolutely love the guy. He’s humble and intelligent and talks sense. I’ve never met anyone who is more passionate about the game. I was a bit miffed when he said I could be a kit man if he gets another management job. I thought I could at least be his strength and conditioning coach!"

One player both Richards and Keane - and all the other pundits - are looking forward to watching this season is Jack Grealish, Manchester City's £100 million signing from Villa.

“I don’t think Jack needs the ‘most expensive’ tag that will follow him around,” said Richards.

“It’s the kind of thing that attached itself to Paul Pogba at United and no matter how well or badly he does, the price tag is always mentioned. It’s not fair to the player.

Micah Richards barrels past Manchester United’s Ashley Young.

“Jack is a close friend of mine and has been for a long while. He’s so genuine and likable. I know him well and I know he can deal with the pressure. His ability and mindset are unbelievable. City just need to let him go out and do his thing. He has all the tools to do really well at the club and it’s likely Pep Guardiola will also eke some improvement out of him tactically.”

Richards is convinced both Grealish and City have nothing but a bright future together and as for his own, being a father to a four-year-old has put everything into perspective.

“Rome, my little boy, is the best thing that ever happened to me, absolutely. Everything that people say about how having a child matures you and changes the way that you think is completely true.

“Outside stuff is so much less important. If the TV and media work all ended tomorrow I would be quite content regardless. I have ownership of myself and that’s a powerful place to be in.”

One of his fervent hopes is that more people take responsibility for their actions and words, especially when it comes to race. He displayed his more serious side with an award-nominated documentary on the subject for Sky TV.

“Have we got racism in the UK? Of course we have and we’ve got religious bigotry, too. But there are far more people doing good and loving one another. Racism is not football’s problem it’s society’s; it’s just football is such a huge platform.

“The only way forward is to keep calling it out, keep educating the kids. Staying silent and putting up with it doesn’t help anyone.”

And helping people - especially the young who have lost their way - is where Richards sees his long term future after broadcasting.

“I would love to get into mentoring kids,” he said. “I have rubbed shoulders with people with hundreds of millions of pounds and those who are completely potless and I’d like to think that I’ve treated them all the same - with respect.

“I feel I have a lot of life experience I can pass on. I have had some hard times as a kid, I’ve been on the receiving end of racism, I have had a career that’s taken me to the top, winning the Premier League and playing for my country, and one that had its deep lows too.

“Just talking others through those experiences and guiding them on to the correct path would be so rewarding.”

Updated: August 13, 2021, 4:09 AM