USA U23 international Chris Richards has set his sights on breaking into the Bayern Munich first team next season, as well as establishing himself at senior international level with the United States men’s national team.
The centre-back has been in Munich since 2018 after impressing on a 10-day trial that summer, and after initially forming part of the club’s U19s, he was promoted to the reserve team at the start of the 2019/20 season.
He has been a regular in the side, which play in Germany’s third division, scoring twice in 22 appearances before the coronavirus outbreak brought match operations to a halt.
And now the Alabama native wants to keep pushing for more. “Hopefully next year I want to start getting some minutes on the field with the first team,” he told the Underdog Soccer Podcast.
Watch: Richards on his Bayern dream
“There are still centre-backs here who are world class. I’m not taking anything away from them, but I think it’s time for me to start getting my shot at showing people what I have and hopefully one day becoming a Bayern legend.”
As if the prospect of dislodging the likes of Niklas Süle, Jerome Boateng, Lucas Hernandez and David Alaba were not enough, Richards is also eager to break through on the international scene.
“For the national team I want to be part of the team that helps in qualifying,” he said. “I want to qualify for a World Cup. I definitely want to be a part of that team […] I’m getting to a point in my career where peaking into the USMNT is something I can accomplish and something I wish to accomplish. I know 2026 is where I want to be a main player for the team, but hopefully 2022 is something I can strive for and be a part of. We want to show we’re better than our past.”
Such lofty ambitions are certainly within his grasp, however. Just a couple of weeks after joining Bayern in summer 2018, Richards toured the US with the first team and played in friendlies against Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Manchester City. And in head coach Hansi Flick, he has a boss more than willing to give young players the chance to shine.
Although aware he is not yet the finished article – Richards cites the need to “play through mistakes” and improve on his “speed of play” – he also knows his own quality:
“I bring a certain level of calmness and level-headedness,” said the 6’2” defender. “I analyse stuff before it happens. I can anticipate really well on the field, whether it’s blocking out a passing lane or spotting a ball before it happens. I’m really good at that.
“One thing I do really well I think is my athleticism. I’m pretty fast and I’m tall. I can jump high and go side to side. I have pretty good headers, I can chase down an attacker if I have to. I cover a lot of ground pretty quickly.”
Richards has also been swift to take on board the exacting demands of the position at Bayern, where he is expected to be more than merely a destructive presence: “For a centre-back they want a few things: precision and experience. You’re the quarter-back of the team. You’re defending against the other team’s most talented players. You need to know what to do at the right time.”
He has had to learn the hard way, however, and admits his first few weeks at the club were particularly tough – a combination of home sickness, difficulty with the language and adapting to training with elite-level first-team players.
“In one of my first weeks here I got ripped into by Arjen Robben,” Richards said, laughing at the memory. “He rips into everybody – Robert Lewandowski, Boateng, anyone. I wasn’t necessarily doing the drill right and I’d messed up a few times. He just ripped into me. I was like ‘wow, this is a scary moment’. He’s scary.”
Unfazed by that dressing down, Richards has continued to work hard and still trains with Bundesliga squad regularly. And despite having faced players of the calibre of Robben and Lewandowski, the 20-year-old says neither of them are the toughest he has come up against on the practice pitch.
“Lewandowski’s unstoppable,” he said. “He’s great with both feet and if you give him even a yard of space he’s going to rock it. But I’ve gone up against Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman in training as well and if you’re not right up there on them they’re going to blow past you.
“Honestly, I think [the toughest] might be Gnabry. You saw him tear up Tottenham Hotspur that one game and he definitely does that in training too. He’s so quick and has such great skill. He’s really strong as well.”
In addition to honing the physical, technical and tactical requirements to succeed at Bayern, Richards also appears to have understood and mastered the elusive key ingredient that is a must for anyone at the Allianz Arena – the so-called ‘Bayern gene’. That is to say, the mentality to cope with the pressure that inevitably comes with top-level sport.
“Everybody holds each other accountable here. They’re going to rip into you if you’re not giving your best in training. Every year they’re in the latter stages of Champions League, or winning the DFB Cup and Bundesliga title. I think everyone owns up to their own mistakes. If you see someone slacking off when you’re giving 100 per cent it’s not fun to see, so you make sure everyone’s giving their best.”