Liverpool might be flying high in their quest to secure Champions League football this season, but that hasn’t stopped the rumours from flying in. The latest player to be linked with a move to Anfield is Manchester City defender Micah Richards, according to Jamie Sanderson of the Metro.
While the Reds have been a free-scoring success up front and are now the Premier League’s top scorers, they are placed a disappointing 10th in the goals conceded column, exemplified by an inconsistent central defensive selection and some eye-catching mistakes.
Richards, a graduate from City’s youth academy, has long been linked with a move to Anfield but as he finds himself firmly down the pecking order both at right-back (to Pablo Zabaleta) and centre-back (to captain Vincent Kompany), this rumour has been revived again with the summer transfer window opening in a few months.
But would he be a good signing for Liverpool?
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons to Micah Richards’ potential signing, assess his proposed role at Anfield and evaluate whether he’d be a good pickup for Brendan Rodgers.
It seems as if Richards has been around forever, yet the Manchester City man is only still 25 years of age.
Blessed with searing pace, a physical frame and dominant ability in the air, Richards burst onto the scene in 2005 as a 17-year-old and quickly gained national prominence as England’s most promising young defender.
Such was the impression he made that he was called up to the national team by Steve McClaren after just 28 professional club matches with City. When he made his first start in light of Gary Neville’s injury at right-back, he broke Rio Ferdinand’s record and became England’s youngest ever defender.
But it’s not just his defensive strength that has won him plenty of plaudits. His marauding runs down the right flank have been a prominent attacking outlet for City over the years, and his physicality means that he is a difficult opponent to come up against. His record of five assists in City’s title-winning season in 2011/12 was the joint most of any defender in the Premier League.
Capable of playing both as a central defender and on the right, Richards also brings leadership to the back four: When he captained City in 2007, he was only 19—their youngest ever captain—and he deputized for Kompany during the Belgian’s absence, again during the 2011/12 season.
A picture of physicality, strength and fitness in his early years at City, Richards has not had the best of luck with injuries recently, with a hamstring problem his latest affliction.
Despite being an important part of their title-winning 2011/12 season, he made just seven Premier League appearances last term, and he has only played in two league games in the current campaign.
In his absence, Pablo Zabaleta, signed during the Mark Hughes era, has become a mainstay in the City first team and established himself as one of the best right-backs in England, making it ever harder for Richards to force his way back into the team.
As such, it’s been a while since Richards has enjoyed an extended run-out in City colours—but when he’s had a first-team opportunity, he has yet to show that he can recapture his pre-injury form.
In Martin Kelly, Liverpool already have a strikingly similar case: Both Kelly and Richards burst onto the scene as talented and complete young defenders, capable of playing both in the centre and on the right but injuries have stalled their striking potential and derailed their careers.
Would Brendan Rodgers, having seen first-hand Kelly’s troubles in making a successful comeback from injury, want a repeat?
Potential Role at Liverpool
When it comes to ability, there’s no doubt that Richards has the talent to succeed at the highest level.
At just 25 years of age, he still has his best years as a defender ahead of him and at Liverpool there is just the right position for him to reestablish himself in the Premier League.
Martin Skrtel has reclaimed his position in the right side of Liverpool’s central defence, but he remains an inconsistent defensive option. Despite having improved his goals return this season, he has also made some alarming mistakes and shown weaknesses in his positioning and tackling.
With Mamadou Sakho seemingly Brendan Rodgers’ first-choice left-sided centre-back option, ahead of vice-captain Daniel Agger, there is a place for a young but established defender on his right.
Both Richards and Sakho’s versatility mean that they can fill in on the flanks in case of injury to their team-mates during a match and also crucially that Rodgers can change his formation to a 3-5-2 with ease and confidence.
Brendan Rodgers has carved a strong reputation as an excellent nurturer of talent, with the likes of DanielSturridge, Philippe Coutinho, Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling benefiting greatly from his man management.
A young English talent needing a platform to prove himself at the highest level, at a club where domestic talent and an exciting attacking ethos are prevalent? There could be no better club than Liverpool for Micah Richards at this stage of his career.
And given that his current contract runs out in the summer of 2015—and that, according to Sami Mokbel of the Daily Mail, City may look to move him on given his unwillingness to sign a new deal—Richards could also be available for a lower fee.
The risk that Richards could yet go down Martin Kelly’s path means that any potential signing would be a gamble, but the chance to pick up one of England’s erstwhile hottest defensive talents on a bargain deal is surely too good to turn down.
This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.