The Richards & McCormack Debacle

By Ryan Pitcher

All told they’ve made 53 appearances for the club and found the net on five occasions – at a cost of over £20 million. To break that figure down even further, Villa have spent £17,450 per day on the pair ever since Micah Richards walked through the doors in June 2015. Admittedly, it was however Ross McCormack’s £12 million price tag that smacked us hardest some 14 months later.

Let’s start by going all the way back to the summer of 2015 and little do we know that we were just about to embark on our final Premier League campaign for x number of years.

Micah Richards

I recall the signing of Richards very well indeed. A day or two after he had agreed terms with the club I was at Elstree Studios to watch a recording of A League of Their Own and to my delight our new signing was a special guest of the panel. As the host James Corden quizzed Richards off-camera about his move to Villa I had this burning desire to yell out “Up the Villa” – but totally bottled it!

The whole thing with Richards is a bit of an enigma to me. Throughout his career he has been known as the joker of the pack and judging from what I’ve seen and read – adding to his infectious laugh – he does offer-up a fair bit of banter. On the flip side to that, it was clear when I listened to him from the audience at the filming of the sports-based comedy panel show that he does actually have a maturity about him and speaks rather candidly. Adding this to the experience that he brought to the table it was little surprise to me that then manager Tim Sherwood made him team captain.

Most supporters are quick to label Richards as a money-grabbing layabout and it’s very easy to see why. I recognise the fact I’ll be one of few, perhaps a lone-rider, when stating that I am not entirely sold with this line. There simply has to be more to it than that.

By no means would I ever come out and say that Richards has covered himself in glory when stepping over that white line donning a Villa jersey, but he was certainly no worse than any other player in a campaign that saw us win just three league matches.

I’m sure most of you recollect the infamous FA Cup third round tie at Wycombe Wanderers in the January of that season when some ‘fans’ shamelessly hurled abuse at the players as they got back on the coach following a 1-1 draw.

Although at the time I couldn’t see what was happening from where I was stood behind the goal, it is alleged that Villa substitutes Brad Guzan and Joleon Lescott had been amusing themselves by seeing who could spit their chewing gum as close to the byline as possible.

Micah Richards

Micah Richards attempts to appease disgruntled Villa fans at Wycombe Wanderers (Jan 2016)

With full-time approaching and Villa winless in 16 matches, a group of supporters took exception to the larking about and decided to call the players out. and whilst every other player and coach ignored the mob it was Richards alone that went to face the wrath head-on and at least tried to calm things down. For me this incident told me a great deal about his character.

The case with Richards appears solely to be about fitness. From what I can gather Richards is a regular at Bodymoor Heath and always turns up to training. There have been reports in the past that suggests that Steve Bruce is not willing to put his trust in a player that he doesn’t believe he can get two matches out of in any given week.

If this happens to be the case then shouldn’t we be questioning the clubs decision to sign him in the first place rather than taking relentless swipes at Richards’ and his moral compass?

It’s evident that he has never been the same player since the knee injury he sustained playing for Manchester City against Swansea and the consequential surgery in October 2012 .

In the three years before joining Villa he made just 12 league appearances all told for City and Fiorentina and it wasn’t as if we weren’t warned about his fitness either. Only a few months before we signed him the then Fiorentina manager Vincenzo Montella voiced his concerns over Richards fitness levels.

And yet we go and pen him up to a lucrative four year deal. Justifiable much?

Ross McCormack

The McCormack saga is polar opposite to the scenario outlined above and one that has cost the club an awful lot more money. In fact this ‘issue’ equates to around 80% of the estimated £20.1m figure put on the two players today.

In my view this sorry tale is all about the Scotsman’s immense ego.

Many an eyebrow was raised when we shelled out £12 million for a player who was just two weeks shy of his 30th birthday, on a four year deal no less and worth a reported £40,000 per week.

I like many Villans thought that he would do a job for a season or two. But the pragmatist that I am couldn’t help but be drawn to the non-existent re-sale value and the thought that in a couple of years time we’re going to be lumbered with a player of age earning a salary that nobody in their right mind would be willing to pay.

Never did I think that we’d be in that exact predicament but for totally different reasons.

I recall speaking to both Leeds and Fulham fans to get their thoughts on McCormack when we brought him to Villa and their responses were very similar. In summary they effectively told me that he’ll always get you goals but if Ross isn’t seen to be the main man then he’ll kick up a bit of fuss and that he can be quite fiery.

Having seen what McCormack could do at this level by playing off of the last defender as well as being a ‘fox in the box’ type, you couldn’t help but sense that he personally thrived on scoring goals and being the match winner. That’s nothing unusual for players of this ilk, but with some players this really did characterise them. This was the be all and end all.

Whenever I watched McCormack in a Villa shirt I couldn’t help but sense that he looked lost and I always put that down to two reasons:-

  1. He’d never played at club with so many options up-front. At Villa there was a genuine competition for places with the likes of Gestede, Ayew and Kodjia.
  2. More often than not he was being deployed as a no. 10.  Ross is the type of player that quite literally ‘gets-off’ on being the player that wins you the game and playing in a deeper role meant that there were fewer chances of this happening.

Perhaps without even McCormack noticing it the above took a toll on him emotionally and he became withdrawn and de-motivated. Hence the ‘training-gate’ scandal and his reluctance to show up to training full-stop.

Although I believe that it’s likely McCormack came to Villa with the best of intentions and not just to fleece the club, I cannot have any sympathy for a footballer who puts his own self-importance ahead of his team mates and to the detriment of this football club.

As a footballer you’re in an extremely priveleged position, one that millions of us could only but dream.

And for as much as personal adoration is great for someone’s self-esteem it can also the undoing of you without you even realising.

Now f*ck off out of our club.

Yours,

Ryan Pitcher (and every other Villa fan for that matter)

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