New skipper Richards the key man for new-look Villa
Published 14/08/2015 | 02:30
Tim Sherwood may have done most of his summer shopping abroad, but when his new-look Aston Villa team step out against Manchester United tonight he will be looking to a player more familiar to English audiences to lead the way.
That man, Micah Richards, knows all about taking on United from his days wearing the light blue of Manchester City and Sherwood believes his new captain, signed on a free transfer, will have a big role to play not just tonight, but over the season to come.
"It's a great stage for him," said the Villa manager. "He has been outstanding since he has been here, which is why he has the armband on. He has a good aura about him and the boys look up to him. He leads by example and he is not frightened to share his opinion with them."
Richards, a Premier League winner with City in 2012, brings much-needed experience, given that Villa lost the spine of last May's FA Cup final team with the departures of Shay Given, Ron Vlaar, Fabian Delph and Christian Benteke.
The imminent arrival of teenage winger Adama Traoré for £7m from Barcelona will take their summer spending over the £50m mark, but of Sherwood's 10 signings only three have Premier League experience.
Hence his delight in landing Richards following the 27-year-old's season on loan at Fiorentina.
"If he can reproduce what we know he is capable of, we are getting him in his prime," added the Villa manager.
Sherwood has yet to decide whether to gamble on the fitness of new striker Rudi Gestede, a £6m recruit from Blackburn.
The Villa boss joked yesterday that Rudy was a "good name" for a song, though it was the Benin international's debut winner at Bournemouth that had the Villa fans in good voice last Saturday. The way he powered in the only goal after coming on as a substitute underlined why he has the record for most headed goals in English football over the last two seasons.
Gestede had a limited pre-season owing to injury but Sherwood might well be tempted to throw him in from the start.
"He has outstanding quality when you stick the ball into the box and he is going to put his head on it and cause defenders a lot of problems.
"The fans have taken to him and, hopefully, he is a hero for the future. He is more than a target man, though - he can pull people around and is quite cute with his movement."
The fact Villa Park will be sold out tonight suggests a new mood of optimism even if owner Randy Lerner's attempted sale of the club drags on.