MICAH RICHARDS: Manchester City were rough around the edges when I joined at 14. Conquering Europe? Forget it. That’s why my dreams will come true if Pep Guardiola can make history
- Manchester City were a rough diamond when I joined at the age of 14
- Khaldoon Al-Mubarak told me wanted to reach the European final in 2010
- My dreams will come true if Manchester City win the Champions League
- Saturday is the moment for Pep Guardiola to make history at the club
Khaldoon Al-Mubarak delivered his words calmly and clinically. He had been Manchester City Chairman for two years and, in the summer of 2010, wanted to spell out his aims.
‘We want to play in a Champions League final,’ he told me. ‘This is where we want to be.’
Things were moving quickly at my club but, even still, I couldn’t quite take this on board. I’d joined City as a 14-year-old. I remembered being told stories about how, when it rained heavily at our Carrington training ground, a certain part of it used to flood allowing old players to have impromptu swims.
Khaldoon Al-Mubarak (left) set out his aim to for Manchester City to make a Champions League final in 2010
City were rough around the edges, not a ruthless winning machine when I joined at 14
That was City: we were rough around the edges, not a ruthless, slick winning machine. My first season – four years before this conversation with Khaldoon – had ended with us losing nine of our final 10 matches. On our day, we could give the top teams in England a game but conquering Europe? Forget it.
But when Khladoon sets his mind to a project, he invariably makes it happen. He thinks about things in a completely different way to anyone I’ve ever met but he is also prepared to be patient. He reinforced this at the end of our conversation.
‘There are going to be moments in the future when people will expect us to win and we won’t,’ he pointed out. ‘But we will get there one day.’
He was right about everything. I remember our early experiences in the Champions League. The first match we played, in September 2011, was a 1-1 draw with Napoli; the second was a 2-0 defeat to Bayern Munich that you might recall for being the night Carlos Tevez refused to come on.
Our early experiences of the Champions League showed us how difficult the competition was
Personally, my memory is of a game that left me questioning whether I could play at the highest level. My task that night was to try and contain Philipp Lahm and Frank Ribery and their movement was such that I didn’t know whether I was coming or going.
Yes, I had played for England but the Champions League is different. Joleon Lescott once told me that when he heard the anthem before one of those early matches, his heart started racing quicker than ever before because the reality of what we were going into hit him.
We had frustration initially. We got 10 points, after doing the double over Villarreal and beating Bayern Munich at home, but it wasn’t enough to get through; the following year, we ended up in a group of death with Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund and failed to progress again.
This was what Khaldoon meant. The way we were perceived had changed because of the financial backing we had and we had to contend with criticism that we couldn’t cut it in Europe – it is a criticism with which the club has been dealing for a decade.
I’ve never hidden the fact City have spent money to get this stage. The old Manchester City, barring a miracle, would have struggled to get close to football’s best competition and it needed massive investment over a sustained period to transform our fortunes.
But I would argue this: are City the only club who have been spending since 2010? No. They most certainly are not. Manchester United have spent fortunes in the same period, so have Chelsea. So, too, have Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, Real Madrid and Barcelona. Spending is no guarantee in this arena.
Even appointing Pep Guardiola was not a guarantee of European glory for the club
Even appointing Pep Guardiola was not an instant route to success. Gradually, however, the right players have been brought in, a way of playing has been perfected and, in Porto, City have a glorious opportunity to put it all right.
Everything that City have done since Abu Dhabi bought the club in 2008 has been building to this moment. I won’t say they will never have a better opportunity to lift this trophy but I do know what good shape they are in for this assignment.
I stood on the side of the pitch last Sunday for the 5-0 win over Everton and, genuinely, I saw Phil Foden and Kevin De Bruyne playing a different game to the one I knew. The speed, the touch, the ability to change direction is unreal. What they are producing is fantasy football.
City deserve to be favourites. I have maximum respect for Chelsea and I said at the beginning of the month I was happy to admit I was wrong in my initial judgement about Thomas Tuchel – anything less than 100 per cent from my old club and there will be more heartbreak.
You shouldn’t forget, either, that Champions League finals rarely go as you expect and history tells you there doesn’t tend to be many classic encounters. It only takes an injury, a contentious refereeing decision or a mistake and the tone can alter completely.
What Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden are producing at the club is like fantasy football
But this is what it is all about for City. My dreams will come true if they win it and I cannot imagine the elation the players will feel should they lift the trophy. Forget about money for a moment – you go into football because you want to experience the adrenaline surge that comes with silverware.
For Guardiola, I’d imagine relief would be his overriding emotion at the end of it all. He’s been on a crusade for a decade, putting himself under intense pressure in Manchester and Munich, and he won’t rest until he delivers this prize.
As it stands, he hasn’t won anything different in comparison to Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini but now he change that. This is the moment when the transformation can be complete. This is the moment for City to make history.
I COULD HAVE GONE TO CHELSEA!
There are always moments in life that make you think “what if?” and Chelsea are central to one of mine.
When I as 19, Chelsea wanted to sign me. They had Paolo Ferreira as their right-back but I knew Jose Mourinho liked what I could do and he made it perfectly clear in one game: I’d gone in for a tackle by where he was standing on the touchline as I got to my feet, he winked at me and said: “good player!”
Jose Mourinho made it clear he wanted to sign me for Chelsea when I was 19
Had Manchester City been in the same position financially as they were when Chelsea wanted Shaun Wright-Phillips in 2005, there is very chance I would have ended up at Stamford Bridge. It got to the point where I even started googling houses in the area.
It would have been a great experience to play for Mourinho but, I will be honest, I never wanted to leave Manchester.
I had already got into the England squad playing for City, so there was no need to go in terms of getting recognition for my country.
Manchester was where my heart lay and it would have been a wrench had I had to go to London. If the offer had arrived, though, and City wanted to accept, that would have been it. In football, you never know what can happen if the phone rings.
MY THREE KEY CLASHES
N’GOLO KANTE v KEVIN DE BRUYNE – De Bruyne has had games when turning it on in the Premier League but he’s reserved his best for the Champions League and so much rests on his shoulders. The same, though, is true for Kante, who has the influence of two men. This battle will be huge.
TIMO WERNER V KYLE WALKER – If I was in Kyle’s shoes – and how I’d love to be in Kyle’s shoes on Saturday night! – I’d have one thing in mind against Werner, a player from whom I predicted big things last summer: stay back. Chelsea will use Werner’s pace on the counterattack and Walker can’t leave space.
CESAR AZPILICUETA V PHIL FODEN – I expect Chelsea will play Reece James as a wing-back with Azpilicueta on the right side of a three-man defence. Foden, who has come of age this season, will look to find the gaps that will leave Thomas Tuchel’s side vulnerable. If he does, City will have the edge.
Kevin De Bruyne v N’Golo Kante will be one of the key battles in Porto on Saturday night
Share this article
Source: Read Full Article