MICAH RICHARDS: My top players to watch in 2022

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As it’s the first day of 2022, it’s the right time to look ahead and see what the next 12 months may bring. 

It is also the right point to make some predictions, so I have picked five players who I’m excited to watch and selected five things I am looking forward to. 

Happy New Year to you all.

1. JARROD BOWEN

This may seem an early call — a big and bold one, too — but the West Ham forward is my dark horse to make England’s World Cup squad. I’ve been watching him closely for a long time and the more I see of him, the more he impresses me.

West Ham are having a fantastic season but it feels like the only players who get singled out regularly for praise are Declan Rice and Michail Antonio. Bowen is just as big a part of it all and has been liberated by not having the pressure of needing to score all the goals, as was the case at Hull.

In David Moyes, he has a manager who will keep squeezing improvement from him. I’ve been told by those who have played under Moyes that he would often hold back on giving his players praise, as he wanted them to keep their feet on the ground and keep them hungry.

Those qualities are leaping out of Bowen, who was one of six players to assist more than 10 goals in 2021. Expect his progress to continue.

Jarrod Bowen has emerged as a key man for West Ham and has a long list of admirers

Jarrod Bowen has emerged as a key man for West Ham and has a long list of admirers

2. JUDE BELLINGHAM

What a class act. It’s not just the way he plays football that sets him apart, it’s the interviews he gives and the way he conducts himself. He has such maturity, such composure that I keep having to remind myself that he is just 18.

When I was in the England squad at his age, I was star-struck and wouldn’t have had the confidence to impose myself. Bellingham is controlling top class games for Borussia Dortmund from central midfield, something only the special ones can do when they are so young.

I said last March that I thought the European Championship would come too soon for him but the World Cup in November can be his time. He has to start for England. He has got all the attributes.

Jude Bellingham shows a confidence beyond his years when playing for Borussia Dortmund

Jude Bellingham shows a confidence beyond his years when playing for Borussia Dortmund

3. HARRY MAGUIRE

He is a good player and I am not afraid to say so. It feels like it is open season on him at the minute and he is getting a lot of criticism but he is going through one of those periods that affects everyone within football.

I don’t believe the system at Manchester United truly suits his qualities, which are based around getting on the ball. I also feel that having a midfielder in front of him like N’Golo Kante would see him in a completely different light, as it would provide another level of protection.

But he is captain at Old Trafford and this is the point to show what he is all about. He has given people reasons to say what they want about him but I want him to turn it around and show why United were prepared to make him the world’s most expensive defender. It’s time to fight on.

Harry Maguire has attracted plenty of criticism but is still among the world's best defenders

Harry Maguire has attracted plenty of criticism but is still among the world’s best defenders

4. MOHAMED SALAH

I want Liverpool to finalise a new contract for him and I want him to stay in the Premier League for many more years. He is getting to the level now where we are talking about him being in the Premier League’s Hall of Fame, someone who could be in the all-time team.

What a player he has become. He is so dangerous that in some matches you don’t see him for 80 minutes but then he will pop up with a goal or an assist. It’s not luck that happens. He’s at Cristiano Ronaldo levels now, the one-time winger who has redefined himself to become an ultimate scorer.

If 2021 was spectacular for Salah, 2022 can be even more so. He looks a certainty at this stage to win the PFA Player of the Year but if Liverpool were to win the Champions League, he will also have an outstanding chance of lifting the Ballon d’Or.

Mohamed Salah is getting better season after season and shows no sign of slowing down

Mohamed Salah is getting better season after season and shows no sign of slowing down

5. CONOR GALLAGHER

The day Crystal Palace beat Manchester City, Gareth Southgate had specifically gone to the Etihad Stadium to watch Gallagher, Marc Guehi and Tyrick Mitchell. Gallagher was superb and scored the clinching goal in a 2-0 win.

Gallagher has been going from strength to strength but I am not surprised about this. He was excellent for West Brom last season, it just didn’t get the right headlines because they went down. His numbers and his work rate were quality — he has continued to make the right impression.

It will be fascinating to see what happens in the summer — will he go back to Chelsea? Will he seek another loan and the security of more first-team football? Whichever of those scenarios materialises I hope he has a brilliant 2022.

Time waits for nobody in football and if he can continue this rich vein of form, I believe he can grasp the opportunity of making the England World Cup squad.

Connor Gallagher has shown what he is all about on loan with Crystal Palace this year

Connor Gallagher has shown what he is all about on loan with Crystal Palace this year

And I’m also looking forward to…

1. THE RETURN OF F1

I’ve got March 20 circled in my diary already for the start of the new Formula One season in Bahrain. 

Football will always be my first love but I am absolutely obsessed with motor racing and I cannot wait to see how the rivalries develop between Sir Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen. 

If circumstances allow, I’m hoping to get to a couple of European races.

Max Verstappen shared a thrilling championship title battle with Sir Lewis Hamilton

Max Verstappen shared a thrilling championship title battle with Sir Lewis Hamilton

2. A WINTER WORLD CUP

For all the complaints people are making about the forthcoming Africa Cup of Nations, what will they say in November when club football shuts down and everyone goes to Qatar? I’m intrigued by all this.

How are national managers supposed to prepare with such a short window? What will the impact be on those players who suffer heartbreaking defeats in Qatar when they return to their clubs? It’s going to be different to anything we have seen before. Let’s hope it will be worth it.

3. THE SUMMER TRANSFER WINDOW

The money involved in football now means we are seeing deals that have figures like you would see when players are traded in baseball or basketball. The business from June onwards has the potential to significantly change teams.

What is Erling Haaland’s next move? Who will Kylian Mbappe join on a free?

And is this the moment Harry Kane will finally leave Tottenham?

Whichever teams land those three strikers, their fortunes will change dramatically.

All football fans are watching on with intrigue, wondering where Erling Haaland will end up

All football fans are watching on with intrigue, wondering where Erling Haaland will end up

4. WATCHING THE NEW MANAGERS DEVELOP

I was fortunate to play in an era with Patrick Vieira, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney — all four, at varying stages, were my team-mates — and I knew they all had what it took to be managers.

Patrick has made a fine start to life at Crystal Palace; Steven will thrive at Aston Villa after his success with Rangers and Wayne is doing an incredible job at Derby from a seemingly impossible situation.

I’m looking forward to seeing where Frank’s next opportunity arrives.

Let’s not forget he was the man who got Chelsea into the Champions League when they were unable to buy players.

5. TRAVEL

I went to Abu Dhabi before Christmas for the Grand Prix and it was my first time outside England since the pandemic began. 

It reminded me what a joy it is to travel. Fingers crossed 2022 sees more of those exciting opportunities come our way and we can broaden our horizons.

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