Birmingham, Alabama-native Chris Richards has been in Germany since first joining Bayern Munich in the summer of 2018. Now, on loan at Hoffenheim for the remainder of the 2020/21 season, the USMNT defender is looking to follow in the footsteps of David Alaba and Serge Gnabry in the next stage of his development.
Sitting down for an exclusive interview with bundesliga.com, Richards discusses his loan move to Hoffenheim from record Bundesliga champions Bayern, his journey so far from Dallas and what he misses most about home as well as the lessons he has already learned from failure in his career...
bundesliga.com: Having just gone on loan to Hoffenheim from Bayern Munich a few weeks ago, what are your impressions of the club so far?
Chris Richards: "I feel good. I've played a few games and some important games, so it has been really good to get 90 minutes under my legs for a few weeks, it's been really nice."
Richards: "Yes, they definitely are influences. Growing up watching their story and hearing their experiences personally from them has really been inspirational for me, that was one of the reasons I decided to come here."
bundesliga.com: Why are more and more top American talents deciding to make the leap to the Bundesliga?
Richards: "I think it all started with Christian Pulisic. I think a lot of Americans saw that us Americans can be productive and successful here in Germany and I think after Christian, it allowed Bundesliga coaches and management to realise that the US has a lot of untapped potential and I think they're starting to use it now."
bundesliga.com: How do you see your role within Hoffenheim's centre of defence?
Richards: "Yeah, it's a big role of course as a defender, you never want to give up goals and you're also kind of the pace-setter for the game in the defence. I like that challenge of being able to stop the other team's usually best player."
Watch: Richards - following in Alaba and Gnabry's Hoffenheim footsteps
bundesliga.com: How did you get into football in the USA?
Richards: "I grew up playing every sport but football was the only sport nobody in my school played, so I tried to find a way to stand out, be unique, and football was a way that I just felt free on the field, so out of all the sports I played, football was the one I kept playing."
bundesliga.com: Like your father, who was a professional player, you were a talented basketball player as well. How did you decide between the two sports?
Richards: "Growing up, I played basketball until I was 16 and I took at trip with what is called the region team in the US, the best players in my area, and we took a trip to Argentina. When I came back, I looked at my dad and told him I didn't want to play basketball anymore, it was just football for me. It was really a struggle at first, because he doesn't know much about football but he was really supportive of my decision. At that time, I wasn't as big as I am now but the summer that I quit playing basketball, I ended up growing six inches and ended up being a lot bigger, so he thought maybe I should have stuck with basketball but now I think he realises I made the best decision."
bundesliga.com: Seeing as your mother played football, how delighted was she about your decision?
Richards: "I believe she was the one who first signed me up for football. Growing up, she never really pushed any sports on to me, she never really had much influence on which sport I decided to choose in the end, but she was definitely the person who signed me up for football in the beginning."
bundesliga.com: You didn't enjoy a meteoric rise at the beginning as you were rejected after a trial in Dallas.
Richards: "Yeah, I had a trial at Dallas the year before I joined the team and they told me I wasn't quite good enough to join the team and maybe I could try out next year, so I went to another team in Houston and we beat FC Dallas that year and the next year, FC Dallas came calling. At first, it was a hard transition, because I'd never been in a pro-environment before but after the first few weeks or months, it became a lot easier for me."
bundesliga.com: How much did your sport-mad parents support you in a situation like this and was your father disappointed that you would not be a basketballer?
Richards: "No, my dad always told me I have to show them they made a mistake and my family aren't people who give up easily, so it was never a sign for me to give up, it was a sign for me to work even harder."
bundesliga.com: Your father lost his business in the 2008 financial crisis. That must have been hard to take for all of you?
Richards: "Yeah, so growing up, I said I played every sport and with the stock market crash in the early to mid-2000s, it was hard on my family but they always found a way for me to keep playing these sports because in the US it costs money. So my motivation was that one day, I can hopefully make enough money so I can repay them and show them that it meant a lot for me."
bundesliga.com: Are you living the American dream?
Richards: "Yeah, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, it's kind of just this fight we have in us Americans, we always want to be the hardest working people we want to show people, they always count us out early, especially in football but not just me, this whole new generation of footballers we have, we're kind of turning the tide on that perception of us."
bundesliga.com: Who has been there to support you in your career to date?
Richards: "In Houston, I lived with a host family for a year and still stay in contact with them to this day. They've always been so supportive of me, even when I moved to Dallas the year after. They were a second family to me, they stayed in contact with my parents and made it work for me. Also, my coach at Houston, who is now the second team coach at Dallas, his name is Eric Quill. He has been really supportive of my career and whenever I need advice, he's always the first person I call."
bundesliga.com: Tell us about how you were picked up at Bayern and your development through the U19 and second teams...
Richards: "I was playing in a big tournament in Dallas, called Dallas Cup, I believe it was right before Bayern and FC Dallas signed the partnership deal. I had signed my pro deal but in the US, you can't play for the pro team before you've played a year in the academy, so I couldn't play for them and they sent me for six months on loan to Bayern after I did a trial in March 2018. I was surprised, I wasn't even thinking of Bayern, Bayern was the last team I thought would want me to come to play for them."
Watch: Bayern's Dallas connection
bundesliga.com: How was it getting used to a foreign country?
Richards: "Yeah, my goal is to win as many games as possible, hopefully, continue in the Europa League and win that as well. Life here in Germany is good, I have a lot of good friends here, at least in Munich I know my way around, out here I'm still learning. But everyone has been really nice to me and really welcoming, understanding I come from a far away place, so everybody has been really welcoming."
bundesliga.com: What are the biggest differences in Germany, particularly with food?
Richards: "Of course, my friends and family, but I think food was the biggest thing for me when I first moved over here. Two completely different types of food. In the US, we're influenced by a lot of different cultures because it's kind of like a melting pot but here it's just completely different, it's always meat and potatoes. My favourite meal? I like chicken tenders with French fries, that's my favourite meal."
bundesliga.com: Who is your idol? You have a tattoo of Martin Luther King...
Richards: "Growing up, before I played as a defender, it was Cristiano Ronaldo but then once I turned into a centre half, Jerome Boateng was my idol. You know, coming where I come from, he's a really big influence to specifically Birmingham and me coming from - my mother is white and my father is black - a lot of things he stood for wouldn't have happened if he didn't stand for those things, so he's a big inspiration, not just to me but to a lot of people back home."
bundesliga.com: Tell us about your fight against racism...
Richards: "Yeah, I think it's really big. Us as footballers, we have a very big platform and I think the only way to one day completely stop it is to bring light to it and not accept it. It means a lot to me, growing up, especially in the States, you hear a lot about hate crimes, whether it's to African Americans or just to our types of people and it's been a new type of movement we've had in the last couple of years but it means a lot to me and to my family."
bundesliga.com: What is your preferred travel destination?
Richards: "I like to spend my holidays back home with my family in Alabama. It's not too exciting, it's kind of boring but it's also a hidden gem, not a lot of people like to travel there but when they're there, they end up realising it's a really beautiful place."
Richards: "Of course, we expect two really good teams. Wolfsburg is in really good form right now, that'll be a tough game and Union Berlin play a really physical and fast type of game, so we're really looking forward to two tough games but games we think we can win."