Micah Richards: the glorious, howling antidote to modern life

Date published: Sunday 13th June 2021 7:06 - John Nicholson

Any man who can mellow Roy Keane while bringing some much-needed sunshine into all our lives is alright by Johnny…

 

Who’s this then?
Micah Lincoln Richards is just 32 and is a 1.80m, former full-back for Manchester City, Fiorentina and Aston Villa. In less than two years after retiring, he has managed to occupy the entire football media real estate and is now, thankfully, almost inescapable wherever or however you watch or listen to football.

His playing career was a case of ‘first half good, second half not so good.’

When he first, in his own words, “burst onto the scene” he was England’s youngest international defender getting his debut cap in 2006. He played 10 times for his country in 2007 and 13 times in total.

So his first seven seasons at City went very well, winning the Premier League and FA Cup. However by 2012-13 he was getting injured regularly, first an ankle and then a knee, the next season he hurt his thigh and then twanged hamstring. This restricted his game time to just 19 appearances between 2012 and 2014, at which point he was loaned to Fiorentina, played 19 times, was injured a bit again, came home and signed for a rotten Aston Villa side.

In 2015-16 he managed to turn out 28 times in a season which saw Villa get relegated. He was on their books for four years but only played 31 games in total due to extensive and repeated knee knack for three of those years

In his first seven seasons he played 226 club games, in the last eight he played just 69.

 


Everybody loves… Roy Keane | N’golo Kante | Alan Shearer | Ally McCoist


 

At the peak of his form he was an irrepressible force of nature, both creatively and defensively. While as a youngster he could be caught out of position, his speed would allow him to recover the situation. Although coming in at under six feet tall, he seemed much taller and, as now, was built like the proverbial brick sh*thouse making him both a skilful defender – his five assists in 2011-12 was the most for a defender in the league – but a physically imposing one too.

He won Player Of The Year for City in 2011-12 (What I like to call the Embassy Regal Number 3 years) and, as he was still only in his early 20s, a great career seemed to be ahead. However, it was not to be. When Steve McClaren left as England manager for umbrella-based crimes, Fabio Capello did not fancy Micah at all. There was a brief recall under temporary manager and ex-City boss, Stuart Pearce, but when Roy arrived he preferred Phil Jones. Oh, Roy.

As soon as he retired two years ago, he began a media career which now sees him working for CBS, NBC in America, Sky Sports and BBC TV and radio. He’s had a regular place on the Monday Night Club alongside Chris Sutton and Rory Smith and his performances on Sky alongside Roy Keane have been better than most of the football they’ve been asked to cast their eyes upon.

In less than two years he’s gone from being largely known for his dodgy knee and a ‘what happened to him?’ career to being one of the most recognisable voices in the football media world and one of the most loved too.

 

Why the love?
We are living through some truly awful times for all of the reasons we know too well. It is easy to despair when every hour of every day politicians are lying to us, saying one thing and doing another. Cronyism is at epidemic levels and dishonesty is the entirety of public discourse now. Whatever a government minister says, it is almost certainly untrue. We are being gaslighted into a supine state where frankly it is all too much to take and we just want something to distract us from the F*ck Jumbo and its attendant selfish, mendacious fleas.

This, to some degree, helps explain the inextricable rise and rise of Media Micah. When all is rancid and corrupt, someone who seems open, honest, genuine and absolutely tremendous fun is pulled to the collective bosom like a hot water bottle on a frosty night.

Here is someone to believe. Here is someone with all the recognisable human qualities that are so lacking in our government ministers. Micah makes us feel good. And frankly, anyone who can do that right here and right now, is going to be loved because we need it man, we badly need to have our faith in humanity restored because at times, all seems so very f*cking bleak.

First thing to notice on TV is how expressive he is with his body language. This is not an inhibited man who is afraid of his emotions. Also, watch how his eyes dart around, almost searching out the amusement in someone else’s reactions. It seems to me that he is incredibly, perhaps unusually open and exposed; ‘The Naked Pundit’, perhaps.

What I mean by that is he doesn’t appear to have any defensive walls behind which to hide his true self or emotions.  There appears to be no artiface or pretence to his work; we are seeing the real man at all times. This is a great innate quality to have and it is at the root of his success, but it does leave you vulnerable. This is the real you so when people are nasty or horrible – and we know they can be and in large numbers – then you’ve nothing to deflect those barbs and must feel them all the more.

I’m sure that privately much of the pain that comes to everyone in the public spotlight, black people especially so, is wounding and hurtful to him, but that he uses that to drive himself on. He should know that for every ounce of abuse there is a ton of love.

When paired with Roy Keane, you might as well forget anyone else is there. It becomes the Micah and Roy show; the buddy movie to end all buddy movies.

If you think of Roy right now, he’s frowning isn’t he? He certainly is not smiling, or god forbid, laughing. Roy doesn’t do laughing – or he didn’t until he met Micah – and we got the impression that he found it vaguely offensive when anyone else laughed. This is football: serious.

By contrast when we think of Micah, in our mind’s eye he is throwing his head back and roaring with laughter, almost to the point of incontinence. He is the man most likely to pull his perineum laughing. I don’t think we’ve ever seen anyone quite so amused by quite so much ever before in a studio. He brings joy to a joyless world. Initially Roy seems suspicious of this mirth machine, but Micah has thawed him out and Roy has quite visibly relaxed. He looks at his partner warmly now, feeling able to make jokes and josh with him.

Most wouldn’t laugh so loudly in front of a man as serious about being Roy as Roy is. But he seems to recognise that it all comes from a place of respect and he likes the fact that they’re so different. Roy looks for all the world like someone’s dad who is very reluctant to get on the dancefloor at a wedding but once encouraged to do so by Micah, discovers he loves grooving to 70s disco.

Micah has often said how in awe of Keane he is and what a great person he is to work with; what a football legend he is. Roy is not immune to this sort of love bombing it seems. None of us would’ve thought that Roy could take a joke, but it turns out not only he can but he rather enjoys the attention.

You’d like to see them get their own show, shot in the midwest of America, as a sort of footballing Tango and Cash. Micah’s sense of humour getting them into all sorts of trouble and Roy’s passive-aggressive demeanour and propensity for violence bailing them out of it. The last scene is always a shot of them driving away from all the mayhem and destruction in a dusty old pick-up, Micah behind the wheel, throwing his head back and roaring with laughter, as Roy shakes his head and gives him a wee smile out of the corner of his mouth.

Ah yes, I think we’d all pay to see that. What’s that you say? It already sort of exists? Oh my word.

What Micah has grasped is that contrary to what some believe, we do not turn up for the deep analysis, we turn up for the good times. There are now hundreds of podcasts made by bearded men in their thirties, which dissect everything on a granular level. If that’s your bag, baby, this is the best of all times. TV cannot hope to compete with those dudes for analysis. All we want out of the pre and post show chatter is entertainment. Football discussion in this arena is light entertainment.

Micah is the antidote to all those pundits who take football so seriously, as though they’re talking about the politics of the Weimar Republic and not some upcoming almost-certainly dreadful match between Fulham and Burnley that hardly anyone will be watching.

That being said, he’s no clown. He can do the serious stuff too. Indeed, possibly because of his light-heartedness at other times, when he does get into serious mode, it has all the more resonance. This is an important lesson for all producers and pundits to learn; if you’re serious all the time, no-one will take you seriously. You need light to cast a shadow.

His voice is a remarkable thing; with deep, resonant basso-profundo vowels wrapped around a Chapeltown accent but with a habit of rising two octaves to a squeaky wheeze as, between laughs, he express amazement or faux indignation. It is a fantastic instrument is Micah’s voice. Unlike anyone I’ve ever heard. His propensity to mangle familiar phrases “pull yourself up by your socks” was a fave of mine, always entertaining too.

At the end of last year I said this about his sartorial sense, “Wearing a much smaller person’s clothes, at times his shirts seemed to be more truss than tailoring.” Since which time we’ve learned that much of this tight-toppery is worn to expose his biceps which he clearly works on for about 23 hours per day along with just about every other major muscle group that hangs from his skeleton. Surely someday soon, he’s going to laugh so hard, his trousers will burst asunder like The Incredible Hulk. It’s all very endearing

His Tackling Racism doc broadcast earlier this year highlighted not only the problems facing black players but also how hard it is to immediately find the right language to talk about it as a pundit. The controversy he found himself mired in when working for CBS and alleged racism from the fourth official, Sebastian Coltescu led to Paris Saint-Germain’s game against Istanbul Basaksehir in the Champions League being suspended, was obviously a big thing for him. He found himself under attack for not condemning, even questioning the seriousness of the remark.

 


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Talking off the top of your head, responding immediately to something, often when you don’t know all of the facts, is what pundits get paid for, but the public needs to understand this context. Not everything everyone says can be taken as a considered, nor definitive view. But, as we know, some people’s unforgiving milk pan of outrage is forever on the verge of boiling over on social media. It does no-one any favours.

It is a cauldron of bile you’re climbing into when you start work as a football pundit. The loathing of them is so widespread that whenever a game is on, whoever is the co-commentator or pundit working the game starts to trend on Twitter and, unless it’s Ally McCoist, it is rarely for a good reason. There is a deep and wide nasty streak in some football supporters which finds it perfectly acceptable to insult people as they go about their work, seeing it as all part of their job, or passing it off as ‘just banter’. I know, I used to do this too. But it’s not right. The world would be a better place if we kept such thoughts to ourselves and those in the same room as us. Little is to be gained by having a pop at people who are on our TVs in the name of having a laugh or in some cases, as though you are TV critics for The Times. But it has to be said that by and large, the odd racist bigot aside, Micah has won over most of his initial critics.

It’s clear that he is still on a big learning curve and it’s a pleasure to watch someone growing into a role and developing a style within it, albeit one that is largely born out of his own character.

Too much of the football punditry world is occupied by people who come across as either world weary, without enthusiasm for the game, or have their views set in such hard stone that they will not be changing with, or evolving to reflect the times. Micah is the antidote to all of that and as such is perfect for these times.

 

What the people say
He’s a big presence in all our lives right now but it was surprising that I didn’t get a massive response this week, possibly this was a quirk of Twitter exposure, maybe it is because so few people watch him on Sky (half of every game’s audience fails to watch any punditry), or maybe it is because the culture of resentment towards pundits now runs so deep, many find it hard to drag any empathy or enjoyment for their work out of their souls. I hope it’s the former.

* An antidote to the “criticism for criticism” sake pundits, including a certain Irishman. His laughter is pure prozac. Also set the ball rolling for Sergio’s 260 goals.

* He always seems unsure if Roy Keane or Souness are about to punch him.

* Wasn’t a fan to start with, but he’s won me over. An infectious personality coupled with an insightful mind, once he’s finished winding Roy Keane up or ribbing Shearer about his age. One of the better pundits on TV, and a cracking player on his day. Feels a wasted talent, to me.

* Loved that he swore on national TV after scoring an equaliser in a cup tie. Even more that Stuart Pearce refused to condemn him for it.

* One of those players I feel didn’t really quite make most of his talent but a brilliant pundit. Not just the comic side but underrated insight as well.

* Should have been England right back for years but sadly tailed off. A breath of fresh air in a studio. Seems to bring out the human side of his peers.

* I’ve never seen Roy smile so much than when he’s around Micah. I remember a piece about Richards and how positive he was in the Villa dressing room despite him being injured and I totally get it now.

* It’s such an infectious attitude.

* Brilliant England debut at RB, massive bum as well

* I just want a hologram of Micah to appear and smile and laugh whenever I feel a little bit sad. Maybe even a virtual hug…( and I’m not even a hugger.)

* Occupies that segment of the Venn diagram where football analysis and comedy overlap. Yes, that’s a thing.

* A player who realised how lucky he was to be a professional footballer and smiled about how fortunate he was; a genuine person & a breath of fresh air then & now.

* The fact that he’s made everyone like Roy Keane is miraculous in itself. Also I think most fans have come to expect to learn nothing from the pundits so you might as well listen to someone having a laugh instead of standard run of the mill cliché.

* I just want to sell him some clothes that fit

* A wonderfully cheerful presence on our screens.  Should have had a much longer international career

 

Three great moments
Feeling a bit down? This five-minute assembly of clips will cheer you up a bit.

 

There’s seriousness behind the smile…

 

Just tremendous fun…

 

Future days
If being amusing and insightful ever goes out of fashion, Micah is in trouble, but that does not seem likely. Easy to forget how young he still is at 32, so young in fact he claimed not to have heard of Ronnie Corbett on a recent Monday Night Club broadcast. I simply cannot believe that. He’ll be telling us he’s never heard of The Beatles next.

However, it’s an interesting dynamic that most of his contemporaries are still playing the game whereas, in effect, his all but stopped when he was still in his mid-20s. Even so, I hear him talking about ‘in my day’ and saying how players are different now, as though he’s a grizzled old ex-pro with 22 seasons under his belt in the old Fourth Division.

Maybe everyone thinks everything was different when they were a teenager, even if it was just over a decade ago. Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so.

He walks a fine line. If you’re only seen as the go-to man for laughs and some good vibes, when it comes to being serious, you might be thought not to have sufficient gravitas. But if you’re always serious, it’s easy to not engage people and consequently they tune out. Micah gets this balance instinctively right, being able to move from a pant-wetting anecdote about Vincent Kompany or someone, to talking about being racially abused in Leeds as a boy, without it seeming to be coming from two different worlds.

He’ll be working for the BBC on the upcoming Euros, so I suspect that the airwaves will once again be full of rip-roaring howls of mirth.

Football needs laughing about and at and Micah is the man for the job. So huge is his personality and so deep and wide his media footprint already, it’s hard not to see him as a major star of the coming couple of decades of football broadcasting, whether it be as a pundit, or more broadly as a documentary maker.

His great skill is to be able to connect to people. We feel we know him. When he laughs, we laugh. This is a huge asset. There’s nothing manufactured or fake or plastic about this man. We should treasure him. He is a rare talent and needed now more than ever.

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