It’s always exciting when Bayern Munich adds a new player to the first team squad. Fans, quite naturally, want to know more about the latest player being asked to serve our legendary club, but when that player is not a big name, it is hard to form a solid opinion of them. In this case, we are faced with the extra problem of the player coming from a second league that not many members of the fan base follow. Omar Richards almost looks like a bit of an enigma.
Normally, I don’t like to assess a player until I have seen them play about ten games. I have only seen Omar play in about four or five matches, but I have rounded up enough quality information about him to come to form a preliminary assessment. So far, there is a lot to like about this young man.
The young man joined Reading FC’s academy in 2013 after having been released by Fulham. Keep in mind that Richards is now 23, so he was released by Fulham at age 15 or so, not exactly a fully developed player. When he first joined Reading he was playing as a winger or attacking midfielder and later moved back to the fullback position (more on this later). Due to a surplus of left backs at Reading he didn’t get consistent minutes until this season and has taken off since becoming the starting fullback this year.
While some are concerned that the jump from the English Championship to a top European team might be too far for Richards, The Athletic reports that “Bayern consider the Championship to be of high quality and scout it extensively.” The number of players who have originated in the Championship only to make a significant impact in the Premier League and internationally is long and storied.
Richards is tall (185 cm), fit, and fast with no significant injury history. The refereeing in the Championship is quite poor, and some aspects of the game there look more like a wrestling match than a football game. Richards has had no problems with the physical aspect of the game there and has shown both the strength to push attackers off the ball and to fight through tackles when he heads up field. There is no reason to believe he cannot handle the physical demands of the Bundesliga.
Style of play
Omar Richards plays fullback the way Hansi Flick utilizes his fullbacks. He bombs up the field, using his speed and ball skills to beat defenders one-on-one, and he has the work ethic and discipline to get back to defend, rarely leaving a gap. His stats confirm these impressions. He ranks near the top of the Championship in a number of categories including true tackles, dribbling and advancing the ball, and his numbers for interceptions and duel win rate are also very high. Richards shows no shyness about getting stuck in, and as a bonus, draws a fair number of fouls when playing in the offensive end. His style is similar to Alphonso Davies’, with perhaps higher focus and sophistication in the defensive side of the game.
Getting up the field comes naturally to Richards due to his background as a winger/attacking midfielder. Interestingly, the switch to fullback was not really intentional. As part of the program at Reading, they make young players play in different positions to better understand the game. When Richards was played at left back for developmental purposes, he performed so well there they could not move him back up. His coaches praised his vision from that position, with one suggesting he had brilliant potential and could turn out to be as accomplished as Ashley Cole.
Reading consistently plays a Flick-style 4-2-3-1, and their left winger tends to drift inside, giving Richards room and opportunity to run down the touch line. There should not be any difficulties with Richards fitting into Flick’s style of play.
Mental attributes and attitude
In the report from The Athletic, many of Richards’ former coaches uniformly praise his attitude and knowledge of the game. He didn’t squawk when moved to the left-back spot and takes instruction well. He is known as a hard worker who pays attention to the little details that make the difference between success and failure. Bayern’s background research highlights his good attitude and willingness to learn.
One of his former coaches raved about Richards’ work ethic, saying that he spent time on the training ground working “on the little one percents”, which is the Bayern approach to football.
Richards has already reportedly begun taking German lessons in preparation for the move, and despite the fact that the transfer discussion dragged on for some time, and was well covered in the local media, it had no apparent impact on his play or attitude. He is reportedly quiet and unassuming in the dressing room, not involved in any drama or conflict, and is reported to have remained calm and grounded despite the attention from the current world champions.
No player is perfect and there are a couple of things the Bayern staff will probably have to keep an eye on, or polish out of the young man.
Until this year his play was fairly inconsistent, being described at going from the three appearances where everyone thought he was the best player on the pitch followed by a match where he would look like one of the worst. While the ratio is fine, most analysts suggest his inconsistency in play (not in attitude) was due to the fact that he was not getting regular playing time and the coach did not show faith in him.
The reality is he is not going to get consistent playing time at Bayern, so one has to hope that he matures a bit in that regard, and the man management skills of Flick will help keep his performances up when he does make appearances. Also, considering how notoriously competitive and demanding Bayern’s practices are, and how much players like Kimmich and Lewandowski demand from their teammates, this should also help keep his play level high.
One also has to be concerned about the change in the speed of play between the Championship and Bayern’s experience in the Bundesliga. While the Bundesliga is not as physical as the Championship, it is faster, and the way Bayern plays calls for fast decision making and precise operation in tight spaces against packed defenses. This will be a new challenge for the young man, and if he struggles, I would think this would be the area that troubles him the most. However, once again, with a full off season of hard practice to adjust the coaching staff should be able to give him all the tools to tackle these challenges.
It looks like Bayern has brought in another good player at a great price. Omar Richards is a quiet, physically gifted young man, with good field vision, speed, a strong work ethic, and the wisdom to make the effort to master the small details of the game rather than just relying on his obvious physical prowess. He plays the position the way Flick likes it to be played, and has shown the ability to defend aggressively and consistently. While he might not get a great deal of playing time in the near future, we have every reason to believe he can deliver both offensive and defensive value when he is called upon. Richards should be able to provide everything that will be asked of him as a back-up to Alphonso Davies.