US international defender Chris Richards says he is fully focussed on furthering his development during a second loan stint with Hoffenheim, but has big plans for his future back at parent club Bayern Munich.
Having been in the country since a 10-day trial brought him to Bayern from FC Dallas in July 2018, Richards has been enjoying life in Germany, calling it “a great place” to which he’s still adapting, having played only some seven months of first-team football. “Like I’ve said before, it’s grown man football. You have to learn how to play against players who might be 10 or 12 years older than you.”
Richards seems to relish that challenge and embrace the opportunities for his development as a footballer: “You can always learn and get better, especially as a centre-back. A lot of us aren’t in our prime until our mid-20s, so I think every day, every game, every training is a way to get better.”
Watch: Chris Richards - No easy road
In the Bundesliga, Richards sees an ideal destination for young players to pursue their footballing dreams: “A lot of us have used it as a stepping stone (to other clubs in other leagues), but the Bundesliga has a lot of amazing teams that could also be a final destination. It’s all about finding the right fit for you.”
At Hoffenheim, Richards has found a club that is an excellent fit for him. “It’s great here! The coaching staff trusts me, the players do, too. They’ve shown me support and I want to pay it back to them with good performances. Hopefully by the end of the season we can qualify for Europe.”
Hoffenheim are only two points out of the European qualification places and on an upward track, so things are looking good for the young defender’s aspirations.
Being on the books of Bayern - and in close contact with coach Julian Nagelsmann - means that Richards is part of a footballing machine geared for success and producing absolutely top-quality talent.
“If you’re going to play with the first team [at Bayern Munich], they expect perfection. They don’t care if you’re 15, 16, or 19; if you’re going to train with the first team, they expect you to be perfect,” Richards says with a smile. “You have to be on at all times because these guys will punish you if you make a mistake.”
That smile rarely leaves Richards’s face as he talks about his life as an American soccer player in a foreign land. Having stepped up into the “grown man football” of the Bundesliga, the centre-back is one of many American players plying their trade in the league. “We’re like a big group of brothers,” Richards says about his compatriots and USMNT teammates. “It’s great to play against each other and catch up.”
When asked what it is about Germany that makes it such an attractive destination for young American players, Richards notes that the Bundesliga has helped shape the careers of several stars: “We’ve seen guys like Christian [Pulisic] and Weston [McKennie] coming over here and succeeding. Seeing the success that not just young Americans, but Americans in general have had in the Bundesliga has made it a great landing spot.”
Last season, Richards operated in the centre of defence and as a right-back, but the man himself has no doubt about where he belongs: “I’ve always seen myself as a centre-back,” said Richards, though he is quick to add, “but so long as I get on the field, I can’t really complain.”
When asked what he would tell young players, including his younger brother, who he says is even more talented than he is, Richards has a simple message: “Shoot for the moon!”
With an eye on his future and potential at parent club Bayern, Richards is bullish. “I don’t see why I can’t push [Niklas] Süle, [Benjamin] Pavard, [Lucas] Hernandez, [Dayot] Upamecano, any of those players out [of the starting line-up].”
His good-natured modesty is never far behind, however: “Of course, it’s one thing to say it and another thing to do it. I have a lot of work to do, but if I keep doing what I’m doing, anything is possible!”