Where Do We Want Him?
As far as Premiership footballers are concerned, we know that we can expect certain traits and behaviour. For the most part, these are behaviour patterns reminiscent of a fat, greedy child. There are rules and regulations that managers and chairmen of every football club in the top flight must abide by to ensure that the multi-multi-millionaire gets out of bed and into his studs. Contracts are scrutinised by sports agents to ensure fair and equitable treatment for their superstars, ranging from a marked and guaranteed rise in wages after an aforementioned period of loyal service (providing they actually reach that target without demanding a transfer to a higher paying club for the sake of their "football"), to a guarantee of a percentage of first team action.
On top of all of the pressure on managers and chairmen to cater to these requirements, the pull of international football raises the level of diva behaviour. "Why aren`t you playing to the best of your ability?", "Well I`m not playing in my usual position, what do you expect!?" If a man apparently worth more than every house in a fourteen mile radius of me put together can`t marry boot to ball correctly because of a six foot deviation in playing position then, I apologise, but you are not worth the money. Now, many of you reading this little rant will be begging for a point to rear its head. My point can be made by stating the name of one man that does not excuse his performances in such a childish way. If he has an excellent ninety minutes on the field then the first words from his lips are thanks to the team around him and the belief of his manager.
This player is none other than Kieran Richardson.
Since joining Sunderland AFC from giants Manchester United in July 2007, Richardson has proven himself as a powerful performer, often found in or around any action on the pitch, be it offensive or defensive. At the time of his transfer, this naturally left sided midfielder was simply a bench warmer for United, undervalued in favour of more commercially beneficial players, most of which of the same (if not less) standard as Richardson. The move to the north east was sweetened with a promise of faith and first team action, something that he only managed on loan in the previous two seasons as a loan player with West Bromwich Albion. However, despite gaining an international cap, he managed to slot in nicely as a dug-out ornament back at Old Trafford, leading Richardson to the Stadium of Light; his home for the proceeding four seasons.
In his time with us, Richardson has managed to prove himself time and time again as one of Sunderland`s greatest assets. I find it hard to believe that anyone would argue that he is not an impressive role-model for any young aspiring player coming up through the ranks, at Sunderland`s Academy of Light or anywhere else in the country. Managing only one red card in four years is not a record to be sneered at, especially considering that the teams regular captain is one Lee Cattermole, a constant worry when it comes to pitch discipline. Surely a player with such a calm and focused head on his shoulders would make him worthy of note at any club. However, it is not for this reason that I am so adamant that Kieran Richardson is one of the main pumps at the heart of Sunderland. When you consider that a natural left-footed midfielder has only played half of his games at this club on the left of midfield, you need to wonder why this has yet to cause this man any problems. When players seemingly worth three times the wage Richardson earns, when players apparently so skilled that managers push Richardson into an observational position on the bench can fail so miserably to adapt to the teams needs and simply play a game or two out of position, why is Richardson not held in higher regard. My mind is boggled when I view the last two or three international calamities that came England`s way; watching post match interviewers wading through the dross of apparently international superstars crying over their energy drinks about playing central when they prefer the right of midfield, childishly whining about not being able to fly as a solo strike force when that`s what they`re used to! Kieran Richardson has now changed not only which side (left or central) he commands, but the entire position within the team.
In the summer of 2010, after a very positive season for Sunderland in regards to the striking power of Darren Bent, Sunderland AFC suffered many defeats and draws, losing many important points, at the hands of a poor display by our left sided defence. Steve Bruce was faced with a difficult situation. How could he find a powerful player to hold the defence together at the left when the cash at his disposal was predominantly focused on a rather nasty situation in goal (Craig Gordon`s understudy Simon Mignolet was not expected to flourish in the Premier League). Bruce was forced to rely on the strength of character that lay within Kieran Richardson to plug the gap at the back. It is in this period that he began to show how truly special his work ethic is. I challenge you to find another player in the Premier League or the England First 11 that would have stood for such a drastic change in play, such a formidable alteration to his training regime… let alone done it with not so much as a rolled eyeball. Richardson felt so strongly that Sunderland AFC was worth the work that he extended his contract with the club under the belief that his skills belonged at left back, despite years of experience to the contrary. This characterised a very special player in my eyes. I am often told by my father, an avid Sunderland fan, that supporting our club is a "Life Sentence without parole", but with Richardson showing such faith in our club, willing to overcome a complete change in pace of play to save the club millions in the transfer market, I truly believe that we have a Sunderland legend in the making.
When we look at the events of this season, I thinks it`s safe to say that there are mixed emotions on a weekly basis. Firstly, we seem to be knocking on the door of European football this season, bringing lots of possibilities as fair as future transfers and earnings are concerned. However, we also have to remember the lows; the hammering at St James` Park and the loss of Darren Bent to a bottom half club (yes Darren, I`m ridiculing you for thinking we`d believe you moved for "the chance to play some better football" at a struggling club). However, in considering both peaks and troughs this season, there is one permanently positive beacon to take comfort in. Kieran Richardson cannot be picked out as anything but a positive, encouraging, spirited and gifted asset to our beloved club. When faced with a defensive disaster, Steve Bruce needed to look no further than the talents of Kieran Richardson. This season, when our top scorer made way for my constantly preferred Asamoah Gyan, leaving yet another hole in the team, who else but Mr Versatility himself could the Stadium of Light look to. Bent left, one game later and Richardson thumps in a superstar goal, one of many to come I`m sure (as well as adding to his tally, currently at 17).
I truly believe that with a character like Richardson powering through any changes in play without resorting to the same boo-hoo excuses as players like Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, the only way is Europe over the coming seasons.
A simple message then to close.
Steve Bruce… here is your Captain. Oh, and Capello… For all that is good and pure give Richardson another cap! Heck, give him the captaincy, he deserves it!