The Michael Wood Column

Saturday 22 September, 2001

Why has it taken so long for Dean Richards to reach the top?

I can remember the precise moment that I realised the Dean Richards was a great player, not just a great Bradford City player.

It was away at Chester in a 4-1 win, Richards gave the home striker a six yard head start pn a ball but still caught him, nothing unusual for a player with his speed, but it was the confident way he collected the ball and distributed that sparked a light in my head. This guy is special.

So when Liverpool fans used to ask about Dean, and the young Richards was often linked to Anfield during his youth, you knew that his fame was travlling further than Bradford. Certainly he was better than Pool's former City recurit of the day Phil Babb. Back then a top flight transfer seemed like it would happen sooner rather than later.

In the end Dean Richards suffered at City. Lennie Lawrence played him in a Sunday afternoon defeat by Cardiff when he was clearly unfit. He struggled off and was laid up for a few months. He left at the end of that season to join Wolves, in retrospect you could hardly blame him.

Wolves was a mix of rave reviews and unnecessary set backs. A car smash put him out for a while, the glass ceiling that the Midlands club reached sometime in the mid90s seemed also to effect him. After being part of the Wolves team that City beat for promotion Dean Richards moved on.

And at this point Richards should have been back at Valley Parade. The player told the T&A he would be interested to talk to City about a Bosman move, Paul Jewell was even rumoured to have booked Deano onto the St Kitts tour, but no home town return emerged and Dean Richards went to Southampton.

Leaving aside the missed possibilities of a Wetherall/Richards central defence one has to wonder why such a talented player ended up at Southampton. No disrespect to the South Coast team but better clubs had watched and passed.

Where were Liverpool? Where were Newcastle? Where was Sir Alex? All had been linked with moves for the former City man but all passed for Southampton to get their man. Pretty soon Deano started to get more rave reviews at the Dell only unlike his Wolves career, such reviews did not stop and when Glenn Hoddle left for Spurs the former City centreback was top of his list of things to take with him to White Hart Lane.

So why has it taken a player who has, in my humble opinion, showed such ability all though his career to reach a top club? (Flattering Spurs at the moment perhaps, but Hod is taking them in the right direction and I personally predict big things for that side of North London)

Perhaps it is a quirk of those years in British football that a player like Richards has found it difficult to find a club willing to take him. The debate on foreign players in the English game has been done to death elsewhere but one result of it would seem to be the Newcastle would rather give a game to Spaniard Marcelino than buy an English player and Chelsea have been happier with a revolving door at the middle of the backline than they would signing a more settled British based player.

Now 27 Richards starts a career at the top level at last. Spurs are behind the Arsenals of this word, but catching rapidly and I for one think that Dean will be a fine replacement for Sol Campbell and, perhaps, not just replacement but partner.

In June 2002 Dean Richards will have played eight months for Spurs. If he takes that in his stride in the same way he took that ball at Chester all those years ago then expect to see Dean Richards follow Stuart McCall in the book of Bradford boys at the World Cup.

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