Writing in the Guardian, Daniel Taylor has confirmed what many have long expected: Micah Richards has decided to leave Manchester City in the summer to try to resurrect his flagging career elsewhere. Taylor says Richards was offered a new deal on improved terms, but he has reluctantly decided he needs to move on to find form after an injury-ravaged two years.
In 2011-12, City's title-winning season under Roberto Mancini, Richards was one of the club's best performing players—nominated for the Player of the Year award at the end of the season—and firmly the first-choice right-back for much of the season.
However, a knee injury suffered at the beginning of last season in the home win over Swansea ruled him out for most of the campaign, and he's struggled for form and fitness ever since. He's played nine league games in almost two years, often struggling to make an impact during his rare appearances.
Micah's PL appearances since 05/06: 13, 28, 25, 34, 23, 18, 29, 7, 2. Injuries have contributed to just 9 apps in nearly two full seasons.— City Watch (@City_Watch) April 8, 2014
As City's longest-serving player—an academy graduate with nearly 250 appearances in a Blue shirt—the club were keen to hang on to him, but it seems he has accepted the need to move to a club that can guarantee him games.
With Pablo Zabaleta so clearly City's first-choice right-back, even if Richards did stay fit for any length of time, he would arguably struggle to win his place back anyway.
City will need to find a replacement though, having spent the last two seasons relying almost solely on Zabaleta—an uncomfortable situation for any top club.
Bacary Sagna is said to be a target, with his Arsenal contract set to expire in the summer. He's been back to his best this season, and City are said to be willing to improve his wages in order to secure a deal, according to David Hytner in the Guardian.
Taylor, one of the most reliable and trusted British football journalists, believes City will be expecting a fee of around £7 million for Richards, a player they have nurtured since the age of 14. It's thought the defender hasn't found the decision easy to make, but understands that, at 25, his career needs reigniting after stalling badly in recent times.
Micah's exit will leave Hart (2006~) as City's current longest-serving player. Made his City debut almost exactly a year after Micah (2005).— City Watch (@City_Watch) April 8, 2014
The fear for City fans, of course, is that he goes elsewhere, particularly a title rival, and rediscovers his form of old. When fully fit and on form, Richards is one of the best full-backs in the league.
The thought of seeing him playing elsewhere and marauding down the right like he did for much of Mancini's tenure would turn the stomachs of the City fans, many of whom respect and appreciate Richards after the years of service he's given the club.
City are losing one their best academy graduate of the last 20 years, a player who came through the ranks and survived beyond the Sheikh Mansour takeover when so many of his peers faltered. However, it's probably best for all concerned.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here: @RobPollard.