“I thought he [my agent] was making it up,” laughs Omar Richards, recalling the moment he found out Bayern Munich were interested in his services in 2020.
Who can blame him either – it’s not very often a player trades his life in the Championship with Reading for one of Europe’s most historic clubs.
But that’s exactly what Richards did when he joined Bayern Munich on a free transfer in May 2021, and went from competing for a Championship play-off spot to winning the Bundesliga title in space. one year.
It’s been a whirlwind 12 months for the 24-year-old London-born full-back, who has revealed he almost quit football to study a university sports course after being released by Fulham as a youngster .
Speaking exclusively to talkSPORT, Richards said: “I think it’s the second thing I’ve ever won in professional football! It’s an incredible achievement for me. My mum couldn’t believe it when she saw the trophy and the medal!
“Actually no [I never thought I’d play for a club like Bayern] because of the turn my career was taking at the time. [After] being released by Fulham, I was then trying out for other teams and getting a lot of no [and people saying] ‘you are too small’, ‘you are too weak’ or ‘you are not what we are looking for’.
“You get to a stage where you have to be realistic with yourself. [and say], ‘OK, maybe it won’t work out and I need to do something else with my life’. So, that’s when I applied to go to college and I was going to put football second and I had to focus properly on studies.
“It was around this time that I started going to Reading and training there. Luckily he took off in Reading, but I literally saw the other side of where he could have gone. All of those things really got to me, but that’s where you really have to believe in yourself. I was a little lucky too, but I worked very hard to seize my opportunities.
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Richards made his Reading debut in August 2017 and established himself as a key member of the squad under then-Royals boss Veljko Paunovic during the 2020/21 season, with his performances reportedly attracting l attention of a number of Premier League clubs.
But, despite being Reading’s first-choice left-back, Richards was left in the dark about his long-term future with the Championship side and so it was a complete shock when Bayern signed him on. approach.
“I was in the last year of my contract and it was around the time when COVID was a little crazy,” he explains.
“So even for me it was a bit nerve-wracking. I see players I’ve played with running out of contract and struggling to find clubs due to financial situations with other clubs. So I think I might find myself in this situation.
“Reading hadn’t approached me for a contract yet, so I didn’t know what was going to happen. I think it was just before December that my agents told me that Bayern were watching me and were interested. I was like, ‘Wow, where did that come from?’
“It was crazy to hear and when you know such a big club is watching you, it adds a bit of pressure, but you’re excited at the same time.
“I didn’t really believe it was true that they were watching me until I was supposed to meet some people from the club. But with COVID I couldn’t, so we did it on Zoom. So, until i see [Bayern technical director] Marco Neppe on Zoom, I didn’t really believe that was true.
“Once I spoke to him, he told me some of the things he wanted to see. Every time I played for Reading I tried to add those things into my game and really tried to impress to make sure the deal could be done.
Richards has made 17 appearances in all competitions this season under the watchful eye of Bayern head coach Julian Nagelsmann, widely regarded as one of the most exciting managers in world football.
Nagelsmann always looks cool, calm and collected on the touchline and that carries over into his life away from the pitch as well, with the 34-year-old showing up for training on his Harley-Davidson motorbike.
“He [Nagelsmann] is really cool,” continues Richards.
“He is accessible and he always has new ideas. He has a lot of tactics and ideas and it’s not so easy to put everything in place in the first season.
“When I arrived in the summer, I was a bit earlier than all the other players. During that period, I was able to spend a lot of one-on-one time and get up to speed very quickly. and I think that really helped me because when I arrived it was like I had to unlearn a lot of things. I knew from before and I’m learning the new way under him.
It was also instructive for Richards to train alongside one of world football’s finest strikers in Robert Lewandowski, and he ended by revealing he is aiming for a call-up to England in the future.
“As a person, he [Lewandowski] is a really cool guy. It’s easy to talk to him,” Richards says.
“As a player I think you can see his qualities. He’s a deadly finisher. I think he has a good all-around game. He can hold the ball, run behind, dribble well and create his own chances.
“I think his all-around game is really good and he’s a natural goalscorer as we all know. It’s really special and I’m quite lucky to be able to play with a player like that.
“I definitely prefer to play with him than against him! But even playing against him, I learn more because this guy is deadly. You need to be on top of your game when playing against these types of players.
“I’m at a big club and hopefully if I can play more here an England call-up could be imminent somewhere.
“I’m just going to keep working hard and keep pushing and see where I can go.”
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