Micah Richards: ‘I’m at my worst on the football pitch – especially if I’m losing’

Micah Richards
Micah Richards

Best and worst is a regular interview in which a celebrity reflects on the highs and lows of their life

Micah Richards, 35, is a former footballer who played for Manchester City and Aston Villa. In 2006, he made his debut for the England team and made history as the youngest defender ever called up to the national team, aged 18. He retired from professional football in 2019 beset by injuries. He has since achieved acclaim as a pundit, working on Match Of The Day, on coverage for CBS in the USA and regularly on the BBC’s coverage of UEFA Euro 2024.

Best thing about being a professional footballer?

The opportunity to do something you love. You don’t realise how special it is to be able to live your dream until you take a step back from it. Football is so stressful, and you want to do well, so it’s easy to forget what a privilege it is.

Best football team in the UK right now?

Manchester City, without a doubt. They’ve just taken football to another level. I think a lot of pundits and journalists think they’ve lost their soul a bit, they aren’t the same, and no, they’re not. I personally don’t love some of the combinations that have been on the pitch, but Manchester City are playing some of the best football I have ever seen in my life. It is simply one of the best teams ever.

Richards and Roy Keane before Manchester City played Liverpool in July 2020
Richards and Roy Keane before Manchester City played Liverpool in July 2020 - Tom Jenkins/NMC Pool

Best thing about being a pundit?

When you leave football, you miss the banter in the dressing room. You’ve had this sort of brotherhood and then one day it’s just gone. Punditry is lovely because it feels like you get that bond back. It often feels like I’m back in the dressing room. I work with amazing people and everyone brings something different. We definitely recreate that dressing room feeling. There’s amazing energy in the studio. When the music starts coming on, it’s time to go to work and it has that nervous energy: let’s go.

Best childhood memory?

One year I was given Home Alone on videotape for Christmas. It had been left on the table, my mum was about to wrap it and I saw it so I already knew I was getting it. I remember the sheer excitement of going to bed that night, knowing what was waiting for me. I actually snuck downstairs to open it early. I love that film, it’s still one of my favourites to this day. I think it’s genius. I just wanted to be Kevin, getting up to all that mischief. I see a lot of my family members in those characters.

Best subject at school?

PE, obviously, but I also used to love drama. I wouldn’t say I was a great actor, but the teacher, Mrs Brady, was fantastic. She was brilliant at getting us to express ourselves and come out of our shells. She messaged me out of the blue on Instagram recently and it was wonderful to reconnect with her and remember those classes again.

Sky TV pundits Richards and Jamie Carragher in May 2023
Sky TV pundits Richards and Jamie Carragher in May 2023 - Shutterstock

Best summer tradition?

I love getting the barbecue out when the football is on. I’m the host and my brother is the cook. We get everyone round to my house, all our friends, all the family, and we just watch whatever sport we can find – football, Olympics, Euros, cricket – it doesn’t matter. We get on the grill, get the game on, it’s unbeatable. Hellmann’s are sponsoring this year’s Euros and asked me to be their mayonnaise ambassador, and honestly, I bit their hands off. Ketchup is good, but mayonnaise on the barbecue is my favourite. There’s something about grilled meat on the barbecue, covered in sauce; it just feels right, it’s the taste of summer.

Worst thing about where you grew up?

As a young person, Chapeltown in Leeds gave me everything I needed; the community is amazing. But alongside all the great stuff, there are drugs and guns. I’ve had friends who have gone down the wrong path. It’s easy to get sucked into that life, following that fast money. Older people were enticing young lads with money and material possessions to follow them down the rabbit hole; you think it looks like a great life, but it’s a trap. I wanted my football career to shine a positive light and tell other young people they could go in a better direction.

Worst interaction with a fan or a member of the public?

One day, I got in a taxi with my hood up and hat on because it was raining. The driver soon cottoned on to the fact we were going to the Aston Villa training ground and said “Well, thank god, you’re not Micah Richards. If I ever see him, I’m going to tell him exactly what I think of him – he’s a disgrace, he’s lazy, he’s taking this club for all it’s worth.” I was thinking, “Should I tell him he’s talking about me, or should I let it go?” I left it in the end. I think he was so worked up we could have had a massive fight. I just gave him a generous tip and let it go.

Richards talks live on the BBC before an Emirates FA Cup match in November 2020
Richards talks live on the BBC before an Emirates FA Cup match in November 2020 - Getty

Worst thing about being a professional footballer?

People only get to see one side of you. When I’m on the pitch I’m aggressive, I’m moody, I can be a bit arrogant. I’m going into battle, I want to win. But when I’m off the pitch, I’m a completely different person. Arguably, me on the pitch is me at my worst – especially if I’m losing. It’s hard when people judge me based only on that side of me. I think modern players are a lot better at expressing themselves than my generation was People are starting to understand what’s going on behind the mask a bit more, which is really positive.

Worst day of your life so far?

There was a day, right at the end of my football career when I had a doctor draining fluid out of my knee so I could get back on the pitch. He had advised me that it probably wouldn’t work and he had misgivings about the procedure, but I couldn’t give it up. My time was done, my body was saying no. I should have taken his advice and graciously known when it was time to bow out, but I couldn’t accept it was all over. All that I’d worked for was disappearing in front of me, and it was due to an injury rather than by my choice. I put a lot of pressure on my doctor to try to fix me and it haunts me to this day.

Worst thing on your mind at the moment?

My dad is quite unwell at the moment. Over the last three months, he’s been having some health problems. I keep feeling like I should be doing more to help him. He’s such a warrior, he has done so much for me. The way I live my life is from the lessons he taught me. I sometimes worry that I’ve neglected him and that is eating me up at the moment. I’ve become so engrossed in what I do, in trying to be the best I can. In my football career, I was doing so well but it ended badly. Now I’ve been given another chance in punditry and I don’t want to regret it again, but I sometimes worry I’m neglecting the person who made all of this possible.

Worst experience on the pitch?

I got injured in a match against Swansea. I went to kick the ball, and my knee locked. I knew at that moment that I was going to be out for a long, long time and it was going to be very difficult for me to get back to where I was. Manchester City were just about to become a major force in football, and I just had this sense that this injury would be the demise of my career, and I’d miss the team achieving those heights.

Absolute worst?

Marmite and Bovril. I’d never had either of them before, but I did some filming the other day and tried them both for the first time. I have never experienced two more disgusting things in my life. I had to spit out the Bovril; I’ve never done that to any food since I was a baby. I don’t understand how people can like those things.

As told to Jack Rear

Hellmann’s has joined forces with Micah Richards to encourage people to up their BBQ game this summer.