Following his recent move to Olympiakos of Greece from Liverpool FC, I thought now would be an appropriate time to assess the career to date of spanish winger Albert Riera Ortega.
He started his career with his hometown club Real Mallorca and it was at the age of 20 in the 02/03 season that things started to take off for him. Albert played 35 of their 38 La Liga matches scoring 4 goals and helped Mallorca to their first ever Copa del Rey trophy.
He then transferred that summer to Bordeaux in France for £4 Million. Scored 5 goals in 10 games in their UEFA Cup campaign helping them to reach the quarter finals in the process.
In 2005 he returned to Spain with Espanyol but struggled to get into the team, forcing him to be loaned out to Man City in the January where he made 15 starts. Stuart Pearce decided against making the deal permanent and so he was headed back to Barcelona. For the next 2 years he played probably the best football of his career to date, becoming a fan favourite and scored a goal in the all Spanish UEFA Cup final at Hampden Park. He scored on his International debut in October 2007 against Denmark. Incidentally manager Luis Aragones was also in charge of Real Mallorca when Riera made his league debut. In the summer of 2008 both Liverpool and Everton competed for his signature. Espanyol wanted £12 Million which Rafa was reluctant to pay. Everton were prepared to give this but Liverpool could offer Champions League football and Albert made this clear to the sporting director former Liverpool coach Paco Herrera. Espanyol were apparently not a big enough club for him, he felt that he was being overlooked for the Spain squad and should be playing on a higher level. In a press conference he said
“I want to leave Espanyol. I do not want to be part of a club that does not take care of or protect its players. I do not know if I will go to Liverpool or any other team. I am hopeful and I would really like everything sorted within the next two weeks.”
“It would be best for everyone concerned, because I know that my transfer would clearly be beneficial I do not want to cause problems.”
Speaking out of turn and upsetting fans a familiar tale in the future for him unfortunately. Rumours were that he was willing to go on strike if he wasn’t given his move. A deal was eventually struck for £8 million to Anfield.
So what had Liverpool got for there 8 million pounds, well from the untrained eye he a had certain amount of pace, strong, good in the air, capable of beating his man and would hug the touch-line offering the width that had been missing. He was a little one footed but then that hasn’t stopped Arjen Robben from being one of the worlds best wingers and he wasn’t afraid to try a shot from distance either. When Sky Sports pundit and Espanyol fan Guillem Balague was asked what Liverpool were getting for their money he replied “the best winger in europe”, he just suffered from confidence problems and needed telling how good he was not something Rafa was renowned for. It was clear from his debut against Man United that he had the talent and the right style of play to succeed in the Premiership. The 1st 6 months of his debut season he was an important player for the reds. He tailed off towards the end of that season but he’s finest moment at Anfield came when Aston Villa were the visitors. The result was a 5-0 win, a goal for Albert after a bit of superb distribution from Pepe Reina and a Man of the Match performance.
The season of 09/10 started badly for Albert, the rumours that Barcelona were interested in signing him were most likely started by the player himself or his agent and then he picked up an ankle injury in pre-season. He then found it very difficult to find form and fitness and get himself back into Rafa’s plans. He made just 15 appearances in the whole of the season the lowest he had played since first arriving at Espanyol. So then he decided to open his mouth once more this time on Radio Marca:
“When the coach says nothing to you and you are well, with no physical problems and training well, you cannot help but think it must be something personal.
“If I’m doing something badly and you are my boss, and you value me, then you are going to come and tell me what I have to do to play again. This is what hurts me.
“You see that the team are not doing well and there are no changes. It’s a little frustrating because you see that you can help.
“I’ve been here two years and I know how he (Benitez) is. He’s never sorted out a situation with a player by talking with him. He thinks he’s in charge and everything else falls on deaf ears.”
He also described Liverpool as a “Sinking ship”. Unconfirmed rumours are that he struck young reserve team player Dani Pacheco in a training ground bust up. The fact that Rafa had allowed other players to redeem themselves after publically speaking out against him suggests there may have been some truth in the matter as Albert Riera was suspended and fined. He never played for Liverpool FC again.
When Rafa left this summer, the wingers chance of a comeback was short-lived. Having been linked with a variety of Russian sides due to his Russian wife and Juventus amongst others. Roy Hodgson decided to sell him on to Olympiakos for 3.3 Million. Now whilst many fans will be glad to see the back of him an equal number will be wondering how a team needing money allowed the player to leave so cheaply.
So what does the future hold for the Spanish Bellamy ?
Well a heros welcome when some 3000 fans turned out for one of Greeks costliest signings at the airport was an unexpected start. He has signed a 4 year-deal with the Athens based club but the fact that he has never stayed at a club for longer than 3 seasons since turning professional suggests he wont see it through. His younger brother Sito who plays for local rivals Panionious had explained certain things about playing in Greece.
“He told me about the friendly supporters and the atmosphere during the derbies. It is a pleasure to play in front of such crowds and this is one of the reasons I came here.”
Hopefully he also explained that no player is bigger than a football club and nor should anyone expect to play especially when he has never lived up to the hype. His wife has expressed her desire to settle down somewhere but in order to do that she is going to have to teach Albert at the age of 28 that upsetting the Manager and Fans with public outbursts is not the way to do things.