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Interview: Roker Report meets... former Sunderland midfielder (& derby hero) Kieran Richardson!

We sat down for an exclusive interview with Kieran Richardson to talk about THAT free kick against the mags, how he loved living in Sunderland, playing for Roy Keane, what he’s up to these days and much more.

Sunderland v Bolton Wanderers - Premier League Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images

RR: Hi Kieran! Here’s a nice, easy one to start with. Give us your best starting eleven of players that you played with during your time at Sunderland...

KR: Wow. That’s hard. Craig Gordon was a great goalkeeper, but Simon (Mignolet) did well too - I’ll go Craig Gordon. Phil Bardsley at right back, Anton Ferdinand and John Mensah at the back. Mensah was a great guy and an absolute beast.

Steed was a dream for me and I’ll put him on the left, Jordan Henderson on the right wing. The middle is hard! There’s so many I could choose. Dean Whitehead, Catts, Dickson Etuhu was such a strong player. I’ll go with myself and Lorik Cana in the middle though.

Darren Bent and Kenwyne Jones up front.

RR: How did the move to Sunderland come about?

KR: It came out of the blue. I had just finished with England U21’s in the Euro Championship. My Dad, who is my agent, rang me and he told me Roy wanted me at Sunderland. David Moyes wanted me at Everton as well though; Everton were more established but I had my ties with Roy Keane.

I knew how big the club was, the fans, the stadium and I thought I would be better going to Sunderland.

Sir Alex Ferguson said he didn’t want me to leave, but if I wanted to go I could, and I wanted to sign for Roy.

Manchester United v Sunderland - Premier League
Kieran rated Darren Bent highly and admits the team were disappointed when he left in the January window.
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

RR: What advice did Sir Alex Ferguson give you before you moved to Sunderland?

KR: To be completely honest. Not in a bad way like we had a falling out, but football can be very cold. There was no advice.

He told my Dad to wish me good luck, but it was no direct phone call or anything like that. That’s what football is like.

Me and Sir Alex had a great relationship, I think that’s just how it went. I didn’t leave on a bad note, it was just done through my Dad and information was fed via him.

RR: Did you feel nervous about signing for Roy Keane, particularly after he singled you out in his prawn sandwich rant when a Manchester United player?

KR: It got blown out of proportion by the media. We got beat off Middlesbrough and Roy was interviewed by MUTV to analyse the game. All he did was analyse the game and do what a pundit does!

The team actually watched it together - it wasn’t a big deal at all, it was just blown out of proportion. I wasn’t nervous at all about working with him; I had a great relationship with him and he was the biggest reason I come to the club.

Roy told you how it was, he didn’t beat around the bush and I need people like this. If I’m played crap, tell me and bench me, be honest.

RR: Was there any pressure and expectation on you from your team-mates at Sunderland due to where you had came from?

KR: I was 23 and I was very confident - I didn’t feel that pressure. I just want to play football and deliver for the club.

I fractured my spine at the beginning of the season though so I wasn’t fit most of the season. I came back near the end of the season and scored a few goals, I was a little tubby though - not fat, but big for me, so the season afterwards I made I got in shape. I lost 10kg, I was running every day and running people ragged in training - I wanted to make sure I came back in the best shape to show the fans what I was about.

RR: What was it like coming to the North East - did you enjoy it, or did you miss being close to home? How did you adapt to living up here?

KR: I loved it. I lived in Sunderland for most of my time at the club. I lived in the flats that oversaw the bride and the river. Those apartments opposite the cinema - I could see the Stadium from my flat. I was there a year, then I moved round the corner to Ashbrooke.

I loved the city, walking around, going to the cinema, talking to people and going to restaurants in Sunderland - I loved all of it.

When people ask me about that period in my life I tell them how much I enjoyed it. It was one of the best time of my life.

The passion for football in Sunderland is on another richter scale completely - but I embraced it, I loved that.

Newcastle United v Sunderland - Premier League
Kieran knew exactly what the Wear-Tyne derbies meant to the fans; especially as he lived in Sunderland the majority of his time here,
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

RR: A lot of people have asked us to ask you about that game at Fulham where you hit the post three times from one free kick. Talk me through that... I bet you couldn’t believe it never went in!

KR: (Laughs) Yeah! I think that was only a week before the Newcastle derby. I took a free kick and it hit every post, then the second half I scored a great free kick and they disallowed it because Pascal Chimbonda was doing something crazy in the wall.

It was good for me though, because I was confident on free kick’s due to that, so whoever we were playing the next week, I was taking it.

RR: Leading up to the Derby in 2008, how much pressure did the players feel knowing it was 28 years since a home win over Newcastle and how did you turn that pressure into such a good performance?

KR: Yeah, it was an unbelievable performance and we know about the record. I lived in Sunderland so I knew exactly what it meant, what beating the Mags meant to the fans and the city. Yes, we wanted to win and get the three points, but all I wanted to do was win the game for you guys.

RR: This has to be the one thing that people asked us to talk about the most... your goal against Newcastle. What went through your head before you stuck that free kick?

KR: One of my favourite goals of all time for me.

It was a windy day and I was a little too close so I couldn’t get it over the wall and dipped like the week before, so I knew it needed to be a power strike. I played with Shay Given at Aston Villa and we discussed it and he’ll admit and he said “it was a rocket, I didn’t even see it”.

When I stepped up the ball, I didn’t feel like I put much power into it! I think it was more the technique that enabled me to get the power behind it. It flew it and it went so fast though.

RR: I can’t actually remember you ever hitting a free kick like that before then... what made you put your foot through it as opposed to taking it on in a more traditional manner?

KR: I just thought it’s too close, I can’t get curl. Get a good connection and aim it in the corner. It was windy too and those new balls fly all over the gaff which probably helped.

When the ball hit the net though, the roar that greeted it was probably one of the best the Stadium has ever heard.

I can’t describe that feeling, I’ve never had that feeling since. I was praying that Newcastle weren’t going to equalise, because I didn’t want that goal and memory wiped. It doesn’t truly sink it till weeks after, years after and here I am talking about it ten years later.

Months later though, a day after the return game at St. James, Joe Kinnear and Newcastle put a cheeky £8m bid in for me - they wanted me to, you know Newcastle being Newcastle “we’ll give you more money, we’ll double your wages” and I was just thinking “no, I’m here mate, I’m a Sunderland player” - imagine if I’d gone months after banging in a goal against them? No, it was’t for me - I can’t even see myself in those colours.

Sunderland v Arsenal - FA Cup Fifth Round
That free-kick aside, what goal did Kieran rate as his most memorable?
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

RR: We were 9th in late October after winning that Newcastle game, but just six weeks later the manager was gone. Did Roy Keane lose the dressing room? And how much of our downturn in form would you place at the door of broken team spirit for alleged individuals?

KR: It’s hard to get it right some times. We signed a lot of foreign players, different cultures, different egos - and they were good guys, I won’t single anyone out.

Sometimes you had people playing up in the training and some players just sign for the money - I’m not anyone specifically, just in general. Some players do that, they may try their best but it’s more about the money rather than actually wanting to interact etc.

I think Roy went for those players because he brought in characters, house hold names and big personalities. Maybe he thought he had the nucleus - the so-called “English” lads and adding these types of talents and characters would add something to it, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

RR: So would you say Roy lost the dressing room?

KR: No - not at all. I think it was more about the upstairs. I don’t think he left because of the players or the club. He was employed by a certain guy and that guy obviously calls the shots. I think he had a bit of a falling out and Roy being Roy, if he’s not in charge and thinks are happening that he did not like then he’ll go and jog on.

I was upset when Roy, as he said himself - he still thinks he should be the manager, and he should be because the transformation he brought in was unbelievable.

RR: Although you were injured and only able to be named as a substitute, how difficult was it to be part of that squad that lost 5-1 at St. James? What went wrong that day?

KR: That was a horrible day wasn’t it? I was on the bench that day and I just wanted to kill someone on that pitch. Kevin Nolan got a hat trick didn’t he? (sighs).

It was hard, it’s a tough place to go but it wasn’t just the defeat, it was the manner of it. They scored early goals, they had the momentum - Kevin Nolan is a nice guy, but that chicken dance - I wanted to boot his head off!

It was a bad day.

RR: Soon after that game, the wheels began to fall off with Darren Bent. How surprised were you by his eventual departure, and how much of an impact do you think that had on the morale of the squad, particularly when it appeared that with Darren we might have been able to kick on and progress?

KR: When you have a player that can score 30 goals a season, it’s a massive loss. As players and fans we were gutted.

Steve Bruce didn’t want to lose him but Aston Villa gave him a bigger deal, more money and more years and football is a short career and Benty went for that.

I know Darren Bent very well and trust me, he loved Sunderland and he would agree 100% his time at Sunderland was the best time of his career and he meant everything he said - sometimes agents get in your ear, more money, better deal and I think he’s just taken it.

RR: You were seen as a bit of a utility man at Sunderland - you played up front, as a number ten, on the left wing, on the right wing, in the centre of the park and even at full back. Why do you think that was, and what was your favourite position to play?

KR: I don’t want to blow my own trumpet, but when you’re so comfortable just playing football, you can play anywhere.

Steve Bruce had me up front with Kenwyne Jones in pre-season before Darren Bent came and I played really well. Sometimes when you don’t have a stable “home” and you can’t nail a position, so you can’t get continuity but to be honest, I just loved playing football - as long as I was playing, starting eleven I was happy. I just loved playing football.

The reason I played left back was my pace, I could match the pace of playing like Aaron Lennon. I was rapid, so I was able to play in that role and it did suit me.

My best position? Centre midfield, the number 10 role. Definitely.

Arsenal v Sunderland - Premier League
Arsenal had attempted to sign Kieran six months before his departure - Kieran wanted to move him to be closer to his family.
Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

RR: Who was the most difficult opponent that you faced when playing full back?

KR: Nathan Dyer. He would also cut inside and break into the centre and cut in and that was difficult. Because I was fast and I could match pacey wingers who would come at me and I was able to get the tackles in etc. I didn’t mind facing wingers like that, but the tricky wingers and the ones who would cut inside and allow the overlap - they were tough.

RR: What were the circumstances around your departure?

KR: In the January, I think Arsenal had some injuries and they wanted me on loan but Martin O’Neill wouldn’t allow it.

I had just had my baby and I had it in my head that I wanted to go home. My wife was from London, my family is in London and i wanted my kid to be around my family I’m blessed to have beautiful children, but that was the only reason I left, otherwise I would have still been there.

I loved Sunderland as a club and I’ll never deny that. When I went to Fulham, I took a wage cut to go because I needed to be near my family for my wife and my children - but look, sometimes when you leave the grass isn’t always greener. I enjoyed my time at Fulham, but I’ll leave it at “the grass isn’t always greener”.

RR: That Newcastle goal aside, which goal gave you the most personal satisfaction?

KR: I had a few good goals, but my goal against Tottenham at White Hart Lane at the beginning of the season meant a lot to me because I had worked so hard in the pre-season to get fit and it just felt like it had all paid off.

RR: Former Manager word association... Roy Keane?

KR: Passionate.

RR: Steve Bruce?

KR: Great man-management skills.

RR: Martin O’Neill?

KR: He loved small details.

RR: Ricky Sbragia?

KR: One of the lads.

Barnet v West Bromwich Albion - Pre-Season Friendly
Kieran was on trail at West Brom in the summer but, as a free agent, he’s enjoying being a Dad and a husband and has no plans to go into coaching.
Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

RR: Who was your favourite?

KR: You might think Roy Keane, but I loved Steve Bruce. I should say Roy because he took me there, but I loved how Steve knew how to talk to players. I’m going to say Roy Keane, but with a shout to Steve Bruce.

RR: Where does playing for Sunderland rank when looking back at your career?

KR: The best time.

RR: You’ve not had a club since leaving Cardiff in 2016. Do you still harbour hopes of playing on? What are your plans for the future - do you fancy going into coaching?

KR: I am enjoying being Dad, a father and a husband. I am enjoying my time off. I’ve played football since I was seven-years-old and if Sunderland called me tomorrow and said there’s a contract, come and sign it - of course I would, but I’m not sitting at home being depressed.

I have things outside of football that keep me busy too. I have my own business where I sell luxury watches and I am enjoying that too.