Chris Richards is an inspiration for academy players at Bayern Munich’s partner club FC Dallas, according to the handful of youngsters who had a three-week training trial in Munich in January.
Justin Che (17), Ricardo Pepi (18), Dante Sealy (17), Brandon Servania (21) and Thomas Roberts (19) were all based at Bayern’s academy campus in the north of the city last month, following in the footsteps of Richards, who had a similar spell at the record Bundesliga champions before joining the club permanently.
The 20-year-old is now a full USA international, having made his debut under Gregg Berhalter against Panama in November 2020, and recently joined Hoffenheim on loan until the end of the season in order to gain more regular first-team experience.
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Having seen Richards’ successful pathway into professional football in Europe, the Dallas youngsters are understandable eager to follow suit.
“Obviously it’s inspirational seeing him, his path and everything he’s done and accomplished so far,” said Pepi in an interview with Bayern TV. “It just shows us that it’s possible for us as well. I’m just extremely happy for him.”
Servania struck a similar chord: “Chris used to play back in Dallas, so we have some sort of connection. Seeing him go through the ranks here, it inspires us.”
Richards was given his Bundesliga debut at the end of the 2019/20 season, and made three Bundesliga appearances for Bayern as well as three in the UEFA Champions League prior to his loan move to Hoffenheim, where he played the full 90 minutes against Eintracht Frankfurt on Matchday 20.
“I’m super proud of him,” said Roberts. “It’s awesome to see a guy from Alabama doing big things at Bayern. I remember when he had the assist for [Robert] Lewandowski. I was sitting on my bed and just thought, ‘wow, we were playing together two years ago and now he’s assisting the best striker in the world’. It’s pretty cool.”
Richards himself is touched by the admiration of his compatriots: “When I first came here I started in the U19s and now they’re seeing me make it into the first team.
“I think they’re proud of me, but they make jokes about me, saying that I’m too big-time now. It’s a really big compliment for me because these are the guys I’ve grown up with my whole life and they look at me in a different light now. That means a lot.”
It was by no means an easy transition, however, and the difference in approach between the US and Germany is something they all noticed.
“It’s two different styles of play,” said Roberts. “In Dallas it’s a little bit more physical, but here they focus a lot more on technique.”
Richards had to adjust to that too when he first moved over in 2018. “When you get over here, they’re more about playing, how to play different kinds of balls, kind of just playing smarter,” he said.
“Back home it’s more about physical attributes. That was the biggest difference between playing at home and playing here.”