Home Sports MICAH RICHARDS: I would love to play for this Aston Villa team

MICAH RICHARDS: I would love to play for this Aston Villa team

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A significant anniversary in my life is approaching. A week on Friday, October 15, it will be five years since I played my last game in professional football.

I was substituted in the 66th minute of a 1-1 draw for Aston Villa at home against Wolves after I’d had what could kindly be described as a ‘challenging’ afternoon, trying to keep Helder Costa quiet. I’d had a lot of issues with my knee all through my career but little did I know the end was coming.

By the end of play that day, Villa were 20th in the Championship.

My time at Aston Villa was a disaster but I would have loved to have played for this side

We’d only won one of our opening 12 fixtures and were a point above the relegation zone. Six months earlier we had dropped out of the Premier League, described by some as one of the worst teams to have played in the division.

When I signed for Villa, it felt like everything was coming together. I was born in Birmingham and my Dad always had a feeling that I’d play for them even when I was at Manchester City. Unfortunately – and this is something of an understatement – it turned out, football-wise, to be a disaster.

In the summer I arrived (2015), there was a lot of bold talk but then a lot of big players were sold.

Christian Benteke went to Liverpool; Fabian Delph went to City while Ron Vlaar went back to AZ Alkmaar. The spine of our team had disappeared and results suffered.

A host of knee issues had thwarted my time at Villa and I could not contribute as I'd have liked

A host of knee issues had thwarted my time at Villa and I could not contribute as I’d have liked

Remi Garde's tenure was a disaster and Villa were relegated as one of the worst top flight sides

Remi Garde’s tenure was a disaster and Villa were relegated as one of the worst top flight sides

The biggest mistake of all, though, was the decision to sack Tim Sherwood three months into the campaign. We’d been playing good football and felt things would turn around but Remi Garde came in and the rest was history. I’ll say it again: it was a disaster.

But it should never have been that way. I think back to some of the players who were there and wonder how things ended up as they did. We had really good players bursting with potential – look at Jack Grealish and Idrissa Gueye facing each other in the Champions League this week.

There were others such as Jordan Amavi, who ended up at Marseille; Jordan Veretout has played for France and is now doing well under Jose Mourinho at Roma. The talent was there, it just couldn’t knit together as everyone hoped it would.

I often get criticised by a section of Villa fans, who claim that I didn’t care about them when I was on the sidelines and all I was concerned about was getting paid. It’s absolute nonsense. I’ve never really gone into detail about the two years I spent trying to get fit but I will now.

It should not have been that way, as we had the likes of Idrissa Gueye (left) and Jack Grealish

It should not have been that way, as we had the likes of Idrissa Gueye (left) and Jack Grealish

It broke my heart not being able to show what I could. People see me as a bubbly character but I had to continually put on a front when I was at Bodymoor Heath, the club’s training ground, to mask the anguish I was feeling at not being able to contribute.

There were nights I would be at home in tears, wondering when the misery I was enduring would ever turn. All I wanted to do was help. Villa is one of the great clubs, with a stadium and fan-base that many could only dream about.

Thankfully there were some good people around to provide support, notably the physio John Hartley and Dr Ricky Shamji. Both told me there was a life after football and how you can never tell what the future holds. They kept me going at times when I felt helpless.

I have been criticised by Villa fans but I was often left in tears due to my struggles at the club

I have been criticised by Villa fans but I was often left in tears due to my struggles at the club

From my position on the sidelines – I spent three years trying to get back – I saw Villa experience wild ups and downs, the relentless fight to get the club back where it belonged. Losing the play-off final to Fulham in 2018 was an especially grim day as they had put so much into campaign.

I was there, too, for the big change when Dean Smith arrived on October 10, 2018. I hoped to convince him that I could play for him but he was very honest with me early on in his reign – he told me I wasn’t fit enough and, in possession, I was going to slow his team down.

Those aren’t words you want to hear but, in many ways, I respected the truth. Smith is a good manager, who lifted them out of the Championship and the stylish team he has built is thriving after beating Manchester United at Old Trafford, a result their bold approach fully deserved.

Dean Smith made clear to me from the outset that I would not play a part in his team

I would have loved to have been able to do what Matty Cash currently does for Smith

I would have loved to have been able to do what Matty Cash currently does for Smith

Villa’s owners are ambitious and the way they conducted their business this summer after selling Jack for £100million shows how determined they are to make sustained progress. We have seen teams go backwards after cashing in on an exceptional talent but Villa have been smart.

So why shouldn’t they be the team that emerges from the pack to put pressure on the top four? I’m not saying they will break in to it this season but why shouldn’t they make that their ambition? John McGinn has stepped up, Ezri Konsa looks like he could play for England with Ollie Watkins.

Smith is getting Villa rolling and it is fantastic to see. If I had three wishes, one would be to play one game for him in peak physical condition. I watch Matty Cash flying up the pitch now and think how I’d love to do that, too. Here is a club moving forward. They won’t take their eye off the ball.

With the likes of Ollie Watkins (R) and John McGinn (L) Villa are going in the right direction

With the likes of Ollie Watkins (R) and John McGinn (L) Villa are going in the right direction

Jail time for racist fan a step in the right direction 

We have said ‘enough is enough’ for a long time and, thankfully, we have seen a punishment to show racial abuse of footballers is being taken seriously.

Simon Silwood, a 50-year-old West Brom fan, is serving time in jail for using social media to call Romaine Sawyers ‘a baboon’ following a 5-0 defeat by Manchester City in January. I’ve been in Romaine’s position far too many times and when you see these messages, you feel degraded.

You try to put on a front and say it doesn’t worry you but, deep down, it does. You try not to think about it when you have seen such a message but the reality is different. You think about nothing else, you feel worthless. All you want to do is play football but then you have to deal with that.

Simon Silwood's (R) jail time for racist abuse to Romaine Sawyers is a step in the right direction

Simon Silwood’s (R) jail time for racist abuse to Romaine Sawyers is a step in the right direction

So good on the authorities for taking the stance they did with Silwood. This won’t change the world overnight and it won’t eradicate racists from society but if this punishment has stopped one or two people from sending similar messages in the future, then it has worked.

Here is a clear statement to anyone thinking about doing what SIlwood did: you are responsible for your actions and they will not be accepted. There is no point saying there is ‘zero tolerance’ to racism if we don’t apply proper punishments. This was a step in the right direction.

Micah’s moment of the week 

It’s something I’m looking forward to rather than something I have seen. I cannot wait for the showdown with Liverpool and Manchester City because this is what football is all about, two outstanding teams going head-to-head in a packed stadium.

These clubs have produced some of the best football I have ever seen in the Premier League and I’m expecting goals tomorrow at Anfield. Roberto Firmino, Mo Salah and Sadio Mane all scored in Liverpool’s 5-1 win in Porto – the challenge confronting City is as big as it gets.

I cannot wait to see Manchester City and Liverpool go head to head in the league this weekend

I cannot wait to see Manchester City and Liverpool go head to head in the league this weekend

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