1411c7e15c868210VgnVCM200000e66411acRCRDapproved/thenational/Articles/Migration/2009-Q3Just one survivor of a year of upheaval0411c7e15c868210VgnVCM200000e66411ac____Just one survivor of a year of upheavalWhen the Manchester City team lined up for the opening game of this season against Blackburn, Micah Richards felt a glow of pride.<p>MANCHESTER // When the Manchester City team lined up for the opening game of this season against Blackburn, Micah Richards felt a glow of pride.
For he was the only player at Ewood Park to have started in the first game of the previous campaign at Aston Villa. Part of the past as well as the present; a survivor in a year of unparalleled change.</p>
<p>Richards says he has to pinch himself when he looks around the dressing room now and sees such players as Robinho, Carlos Tevez and Emmanuel Adebayor.
He came through the club's academy at age 13 and recalls the excitement created by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed's investment.
"I can't remember where I first heard about it, but as soon as we got together at the training ground there was loads of talk about it," he says.</p>
<p>"The players were all wondering who might be coming in and there was suddenly a lot of excitement around the place. Obviously there was a lot of media speculation around us at the time and it felt a bit like a whirlwind. Within days we had Robinho in, a real world-class player. That signalled the intention of the new owners, and it's been an upwards process from then on.
"Things have changed so quickly, and yes, it is a bit amazing. The training ground is unrecognisable from a year ago, the new players coming in, even to things like being invited to play against Barcelona in the Camp Nou. It feels like we're on a completely different level.</p>
<p>"There's a feeling that we are on the brink of something big, and everyone wants to be on board for the ride."
City have gone from mid-table hopefuls to Champions League challengers. The disappointment of the tumultuous 4-3 defeat to Manchester United on Sunday will linger, but Richards said City, who beat Arsenal last week, showed they can "match the very best".
"We can run United close without Adebayor and Robinho and score four at home to Arsenal. Anyone who can do that must be seen as a real challenger."</p>
<p>Richards, 21, had previously warned it might take four years for City to win the major prizes. But he added: "Everyone will have a view on how close we might go and how long it may take, and although I may have said four years I might be wrong. It may be sooner, it may take longer.
"We are a new team that is settling down together, but we're not really wanting to put limits to what might be achieved this year. What I do know is that we are making big improvements and I think people are starting to come around to the idea that we could well be genuine title challengers before long."</p>
<p>And that whets the appetite of Richards, who, at the age of 18, became England's youngest-ever defender when he made his international debut in 2006 against the Netherlands.
"As a footballer you want to win things and be up at the top, and of course I have dreams like anyone else of lifting trophies and winning medals," he said.
"I'm proud to be part of this team, but we've not won anything yet. It's so important that we don't get carried away believing the hype when we're just a few games into an important season. We need to be focused.</p>
<p>"As players, our job doesn't change, no matter who is in charge of the club and how much money is being spent.
"We have to come in and work hard on the training field and give our all on the pitch in games. It's not difficult to cope with at all in that respect.
"The expectation comes from the fans, but they are tremendously supportive of us and always have been."