Is this Aston Villa star up there with Cahill and Stones?

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Aston Villa defender Micah Richards has recently claimed that fully fit he’s equal to any member of the England team. While it’s commendable that he has so much belief in his own ability it does appear an outlandish statement. But, does a player that virtually took a sabbatical from the sport have a point?

Had the Richards from Manchester City’s 2011/12 title winning side demanded an England jersey, few could have argued. He was a key cog in Roberto Mancini’s defence and also chipped in with several assists. He looked to have finally evolved from a product of Jim Cassell’s youth policy, one that often produced athletes over footballers, into a defender worthy of his Club Player of the Year nomination. His level of performance was so high he kept Pablo Zabaleta out of the City side. Then injury struck and it happened to coincide with the Argentinian’s own surge. Despite being club vice-captain, the following season his appearances were restricted to just seven in the league and one in Europe. Following Mancini’s dismissal it was clear Richards’ time was up. The valid cries from the Citizens masses a few seasons previous for a Richards England call-up seemed a lifetime away when he took to the field against club legend Uwe Rosler’s Wigan side in the FA Cup. The Latics claimed an unexpected victory at the Etihad Stadium and a painful acceptance went hand-in-hand with the loss: Micah was no longer good enough for City. In an attempt to resurrect his career he took a season long loan at Italian side Fiorentina. The initial fee was £3.5m with the option to make it permanent for a further £1.2m. That transaction never took place, nor did the rehabilitation of Micah’s reputation. He was restricted to 10 appearances and returned to England, once home he was released by Manchester City. Alas, Aston Villa offered the once-promising star salvation. With deserter Fabian Delph heading the other way, after a series of U-turns, there were extra armbands flying around Villa Park. Richards became team captain to compliment Gabriel Agbonlahor’s role as club captain. With the arrival of another former Manchester City defender, Joleon Lescott, partnering at the back, his chances of rediscovering his best have been boosted. The only slight worry is when Fiorentina switched to three centre-backs, he was omitted, viewed as a right-back only. There was always an opinion that Richards would become a centre-back in the long run, but the Italian side had a whole season to nurture those attributes and decided Richards wasn’t quite right. At 27-years-of-age, it’s now or never for him to prove he can be the rock at the back. So far he has looked solid for Villa, if not spectacular. This makes the immediate mention of England somewhat baffling. There’s no way he should be considered above John Stones, Phil Jagielka or Gary Cahill. For now even Chris Smalling walks into any side before him. Nathaniel Clyne is the easy target when looking for a victim, but he has started the season in an assured manner for Liverpool. And playing for one of the big clubs usually makes keeping an England shirt an easier task. Now with the guarantee of game time he could become a threat to a few players in the England side. This says more about the current options for Roy Hodgson than it does Richards. He’s been quoted saying if Stuart Pearce was England manager, he’d be the first name on the team sheet, which probably is a truer reflection of Pearce’s ability as a manager than Micah’s as a player. Any decent national team should have enough quality to ensure that if a player missed so much competitive game time, over such a long period, they’d have to remain silent over their hopes of a recall and pray unfortunate circumstances bestowed his rivals for a cap. Instead we have an England team that’s so average even players that have been on the fringes of the game are in with a shout for a place.
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