With his ability to run, move and think like lightning, Bayern Munich-owned Hoffenheim defender Chris Richards perhaps has more in common with DC Superhero The Flash than he realises.
"If I had super powers, I'd want to be like Flash," Richards told Hoffenheim TV after hot-footing it back to the Sinsheim club on a season-long loan deal from record champions Bayern on summer 2021 transfer deadline day. "Having super speed would be dope, it'd be so cool."
Richards might not fall into the super-human category, but he has made rapid progress since leaving his native Texas for Germany's south in May 2018.
The Alabama native was part of the FC Dallas contingent that spent 10 days in Munich as part of a newly formed player partnership between the clubs. Despite having never played for the Dallas first team, his stay was extended in the form of a one-year loan deal.
Richards was enrolled with the Bayern U19s under Sebastian Hoeneß to start, but was given a taste of the big time when he was included in the squad for the 2018 summer tour to the USA, making his debut in the International Champions Cup win over Paris Saint-Germain.
His loan was made permanent six months later and, after a year with the U19s, Richards followed promoted coach Hoeneß to the reserves in the third division. He started 30 of 38 games as the FCB reserves ended their first campaign back in the third tier as 2019/20 champions.
Watch: Chris Richards and Bayern's Dallas connection
Having made his Bundesliga debut on the penultimate weekend of 2019/20, Richards furthered his experience on all fronts the following campaign. By the time he joined Hoffenheim on a six-month loan in January 2021, he'd earned Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League starts, and won his first senior USMNT cap.
"We're very happy with how Chris Richards has developed with us, which is why we've extended his contract," commented Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic after striking a deal to send the three-time US international back to Hoffenheim, whilst kitting him out with a new contract through to June 2025.
"Chris is a young player who will now gain further Bundesliga experience at Hoffenheim, which is exactly what he needs."
What may appear like tough love in the interim, is actually all part of a carefully laid plan at Bayern. Why allow a player to warm the substitutes' bench when he could be gaining invaluable first-team minutes elsewhere?
It is a sound piece of logic that has framed the careers of some of the club's brightest offspring. Philipp Lahm, David Alaba, Toni Kroos and Serge Gnabry were all farmed out at formative stages in the careers, only to return as first-team staples - world-beaters at that.
Purchase options were strictly off the table, while familiarity bred long-term success to the tune of countless titles.
Watch: Chris Richards - following in David Alaba and Serge Gnabry's Hoffenheim footsteps
Of the aforementioned treble-winners, Lahm (VfB Stuttgart), Alaba and Gnabry (Hoffenheim) didn't leave Germany's south. Kroos headed north to Bayer Leverkusen, albeit to play under legendary Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes.
Richards is embarking on a third stint under Hoeneß's watchful gaze.
"Chris is quick, strong in the tackle and has shown from the off that he can make it in the Bundesliga," commented the Hoffenheim head coach. "I've known him a long time, and it's extremely fun to work with him."
Richards made 11 appearances for Hoffenheim during the 2020/21 Rückrunde, enjoying a strong run as a starting central defender before suffering a hip injury that ruled him out of the final three matches of the Bundesliga season, and contention for the USMNT’s CONCACAF Nations League squad.
Drawing on healing powers Barry Allen would be proud of, the American has since managed 45 minutes of 2021/22 DFB Cup first-round action with Bayern. He could make his second debut for Hoffenheim as early as the Bundesliga Matchday 4 meeting with Mainz. A trip to Munich's Allianz Arena to face his parent club is slated for 23 October.
"Hoffenheim have a really good tradition of building up young players and making them into some of the best players in the world," Richards said. "Hopefully, I'll get a lot of playing time here, and I'll be able to show the Bundesliga and the world that I'm a good player, that I can win games and play to my potential."