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      Chris Richards on rivalries, cities, positions & idols


      From life in Hoover, Alabama to the bright lights of the Allianz Arena and Munich, to Selhurst Park and London, Chris Richards has never been afraid to embrace change in his life.

      As the centre-back turned holding midfielder explains, it is that same adaptability – and that breadth of experience – which could serve him well as his run in the first-team continues for Crystal Palace...

      This interview originally appeared in the Crystal Palace v Brighton matchday programme, with additional material amended today. You can shop for programmes by clicking HERE.

      Chris Richards’ journey to Crystal Palace is a story well worth reading, if you haven’t already – the headline being that just two years separated his days of playing school ‘soccer’ on Saturdays in Hoover, Alabama, to assisting Robert Lewandowski and playing in the UEFA Champions League with Bayern Munich.

      Richards’ athletic qualities afforded him the pick of his paths in a sports-mad nation: he declined prospective careers playing basketball – his father’s professional game – running track, long jumping and launching baseballs in favour of his eventual career path.

      His journey launched him rapidly from spells with FC Dallas and Houston to the most surreal of switches to global powerhouse Bayern Munich – a transfer which took place only five years ago. He lived halfway across the world from home, learning German from scratch, and football from the likes of Franck Ribéry, Arjen Robben and Thomas Müller.

      Then, in summer 2022, the chance to fulfil his lifelong dream of playing in the Premier League arrived with Crystal Palace. At the age of 22: another new country, another new culture.

      The one constant in all of Richards’ switches? His appreciation of rivalry. “I think here, sporting rivalry is a bit more ‘life and death’,” Richards explains, contrasting its role on either side of the Atlantic. “Rivalries are big in sports worldwide, but they’re particularly big in the US.

      "We try to make everything into a rivalry. It’s just American culture. Your whole family will go to a school, so you’ll go to that school, and your kids will go to that school... so if your friend doesn’t support that school… that weekend, you’re not friends!

      “In Alabama, we had a big one: University of Alabama versus Auburn University. It splits everyone: schools, friends, families… Auburn had a tradition where, whenever they won the game, they threw toilet paper on this really old tree in the middle of the University… so an Alabama fan poisoned the tree and it died! It was crazy.

      “People will do anything to throw the other team off their game during the whole week. Here it feels a bit more ‘life or death’ because of the pyramid system, but I feel like, back home, people who usually see each other every day, for that week, will hate each other!”

      As part of a run of nine consecutive starts – his longest stretch so far in a Palace shirt – Richards recently enjoyed his first taste of a match against Brighton & Hove Albion, this weekend's opponents in the return fixture, having not featured against them last season.

      Speaking to Palace TV after the game, he said: “It was interesting! Right before half-time, when we scored, the crowd was really loud. It was really good to hear that.

      "I felt like it was a bit louder [than normal] because of the rivalry. It was awesome to experience my first Palace-Brighton rivalry.”

      Chris Richards on his first experience of Palace v Brighton

      He had gone into the match well-prepared; Richards' time at Bayern gave him experience of another great rivalry, Der Klassiker. “That was my first time playing against Borussia Dortmund.

      “It was in the German Super Cup [in September 2020], so it was for a trophy. That was a lot of fun, playing with some of the greats and against some of the greats in a huge game. The second time was away in Dortmund, the year after fans came back from COVID, and the place was jumping.”

      One-and-a-half years into life in London, it speaks volumes that Richards – still only 23-years-old – has settled quickly enough to embrace life in the city as a whole. It is a world away from his starting point in Alabama – but an opportunity he is relishing.

      “London’s dope,” he laughs. “It’s cool because you can kind of become your own person in London. I think London’s probably one of the best cities I’ve ever been to… other than the weather!

      “You can eat whatever you want, you can meet whoever you want, you can see whatever you want… There’s so much for you here.

      "That’s what I’ve enjoyed, just trying to find things that I like: new foods, new clothes, new places to visit… whatever. London’s pretty inspiring.

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      The one thing that really makes London into London is the number of different cultures.

      Chris Richards

      “Once you get here, you have to start off with the touristy stuff, but the one thing that really makes London into London is the number of different cultures.

      "London’s culture is having different cultures – so I try to check out different markets, go to different parts of the city and throw myself into everything.

      “I like Spitalfields Market in Shoreditch a lot – it has good food, good vendors and good vintage spots. And in the south, I’ve spent a bit of time in coffee shops in Clapham. I like driving past and seeing people playing basketball; I like the area around Clapham Common.

      “Birmingham’s pretty much just one pace. I love it – it’s where I grew up – but I think here is more of a place for people who want to just find out who they are. It’s just an easier place to express yourself.”

      Richards declares himself “partial” to tea – but is there anything he finds weird about English culture? “One thing I think is pretty cool is that ‘bonfire day’, is that what it is?

      “It was cool ‘cause I could see the fireworks from my apartment – but I think it’s pretty weird that you guys gave a holiday to somebody trying to blow up Parliament!”

      We’re fairly certain that, as he always does, Richards will adapt.

      A centre-back by trade, the US international’s recent run in the Palace side has coincided with an abrupt, but impressively seamless, change in role to defensive midfielder – although in his last two appearances, he has slotted once again into the back four.

      Most Academy footballers tend to start up front – being the best players in their youth teams, they score the most goals, so the logic goes – but was that the case with Richards’ footballing education in America?

      “I played left winger my whole life in Birmingham until I was probably 15,” he admits. “But then I started playing in defence because our two centrebacks fell sick, and I wasn’t scoring as many goals anymore!

      "My coach figured it was just a one-off, but then I had a really good tournament and I kind of just loved defending from that point on.”

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      The coaching staff here have kept pushing me to be better so that, when my name was called, I was ready to step up

      Chris Richards

      The parallels are obvious with Richards’ recent spell in midfield. “I just filled in one day there in a training session.

      "I think the coaching staff were just trying to find a way to help me get on the pitch. As a centre-back, you never really get subbed on, and if you are, it’s probably to see out the game – to clear a few balls here and there.

      “But I played in midfield once in training, the week leading up to [Nottingham] Forest [in October]. Then, in the closing stages of the game, we were losing a few second balls in midfield, so the gaffer was like: ‘Chris, get in there – and get after people.’

      “I felt like I must’ve done pretty well at that, ‘cause against West Ham, when the spot was open, the gaffer looked at me and was like: ‘I’ve seen you do it – now go out there and do what you’ve done before.’

      “For me, it’s about staying ready for when your name’s called. It’s probably easier said than done when you’re not playing, but the coaching staff here have kept pushing me to be better so that, when my name was called, I was ready to step up – I was eager to take it on.”

      That change in role at the London Stadium – in the 1-1 draw with West Ham in December – came following a late withdrawal by Jeffrey Schlupp for personal reasons.

      “I literally got the notice 20 minutes before our team meeting: ‘Chris, you’re going to play in midfield!’ I was a bit nervous because I’m playing in a top league in the world, out of position.

      “My mind’s racing. You’re like: ‘Okay, I only pay attention to centre-backs in training – so how do I press as a holding midfielder? How do I know which players to watch?’ You’re trying to rewire your brain with the few hours you have before playing the game.

      “But the people around me were really helpful. They kept on pushing me and talking to me, before the game and during the game, so that really helped as well.”

      Which elements have demanded the most adaptation? Richards smiles: “In defence, you’re used to the whole game being ahead of you, but then once you’re in midfield, you’re seeing balls go over your head. You’re seeing people come to feet. It’s completely different.

      “When I was a centre-back, I knew what I wanted from a holding midfielder. Now, I’m trying to be the holding midfielder that I would’ve wanted as a centre-back – I guess that’s kind of what it is.

      “[The coaches have told me] you don’t have to know all the answers straight away – it’s a learning curve. Even the best players in the position are still learning every day, so you take each game as a learning experience and just try to add one little bit to your game every week.”

      Does Richards see it as a potential long-term change? “There’s a lot of similarities between centre-back and centre-midfield, so I’ll never rule anything out!” he smiles.

      “If the gaffer sees me in that position long-term, then I’ll do whatever it takes to be on the pitch and to help this team get results.

      "Especially in the modern game, and this season with the unfortunate amount of injuries we have, it’s about having players who are willing to adapt to whatever’s thrown at them.

      “If I can add certain aspects to my game, if I can show that I can play holding midfield, then it just adds another notch onto my belt. And I think it shows not only the guys around me, but also the coaching staff, that they can trust me if they want to put me anywhere else on the pitch.

      “Whether it’s the right understanding of the position… well, that’ll take time! But I know whatever position I’m in, I’ll give it 100 percent.”

      Having previously admired Jerome Boateng, who he later played with at Bayern; Sergio Ramos; and Carlos Puyol – “they were the three guys who had the sickest highlights tapes on YouTube”, he explains – Richards now adds: “That’s changed a little!

      “I really like watching Sergio Busquets, how he is on the ball. It’s really impressive. But I also watch the Premier League, seeing midfielders like Rodri at Manchester City, and Thiago who I played with at Bayern.

      “It’s really interesting looking at their mechanisms, how they see the game… so it’s definitely a change in the highlights clips I watch on YouTube!”

      Should his eye-catching form continue this season – be that in midfield, defence, or elsewhere – expect to spot a Richards reel propping up your own video algorithms in the days to come.