Albert Riera is an intriguing player to assess. Both from a Liverpool standpoint and a wider one.
During his almost 20-year career, he represented 11 different clubs across seven different countries. Spain, France, England, Greece, Turkey, Italy and Slovenia, to be precise.
Such a range of experiences and locations brought with it an almost inevitable variation in success levels – and the odd drama.
His time at Anfield could, perhaps, almost be seen as a reasonable microcosmic reflection of his playing days.
In his almost 23 months with the Reds, he made 56 appearances across all competitions, scored five goals and registered seven assists.
The fact that 40 of those appearances – and all five goals – came in his first season, hints at the contrast between his early and latter months at the club.
It feels, though, like most of his on-field contributions were both positive and purposeful.
After coming through the ranks at local club Real Mallorca, who he helped to victory in the 2003 Copa del Rey, Riera joined French side Bordeaux that summer.
Following two campaigns as a regular, he signed for Espanyol in 2005. He struggled to establish himself on his return to Spain, though, and a half-season loan move to Manchester City in January 2006 brought similar challenges.
His next two years in Catalonia saw him become a much more central figure, however. He brought Espanyol level at 1-1 against Sevilla in the 2007 UEFA Cup final – although the southern side would win on penalties – and also earned the first of his 16 Spain caps in October of that year.
All of which were, presumably, factors in Rafael Benítez opting to bring him to Liverpool on August 31, 2008.
That first season saw the Reds notch 86 points on the way to a second-placed finish. The fact Riera featured in 28 of the 38 league games, in itself, suggests he made a sizeable contribution to what was – at that stage – the club’s best Premier League campaign.
His working relationship with the Spanish boss would, as it turned out, end relatively messily a little over 18 months down the line. The levels of trust appeared high in the early months, though.
That Riera started the 2-1 home win over Manchester United less than a fortnight later, arguably represents the earliest evidence of that.
He played a notable role, too. It was his chasing down of Xabi Alonso’s deflected shot that forced Edwin van der Sar to rush off his line and inadvertently divert the ball off Wes Brown and back into the net for the 26th-minute equaliser.Embed from Getty Images
After several more encouraging displays, he scored his first goal for the club in the 3-2 victory over Wigan Athletic on October 18 when Steven Gerrard’s clever dummy of Nabil El Zhar’s pass allowed him to drive a 20-yard right-footed effort into the bottom-right corner. That made it 2-2 in the 80th minute and Dirk Kuyt’s winner arrived five minutes later.
As his four other strikes for Liverpool demonstrated, he had a taste for the spectacular.
His next one, on December 9, came in the 3-1 win at PSV Eindhoven which helped ensure the Reds topped their Champions League group ahead of Atlético Madrid.
With the score at 1-1, he rifled a left-footed 25-yarder into the top-left corner in the 68th minute to earn the lead, before David N’Gog extended the advantage 11 minutes later.
He cleverly studded home a Gerrard corner to open the scoring in the 3-0 Boxing Day victory over Bolton Wanderers and, eight days later, rifled in another impressive opener in the 2-0 FA Cup Third Round victory at Preston North End.Embed from Getty Images
His mix of doggedness, directness and technical ability was proving highly productive on the left flank, although – as his numbers perhaps implied – there was a sense that he should have impacted games more regularly.
The goal that he is generally best remembered for – which put the Reds two up in the 5-0 home win over Aston Villa on March 22, 2009 – also proved to be his last for the club.
It was a goal that had that particular iteration of Liverpool stamped all over it.
Goalkeeper Pepe Reina’s assist was brilliant, but not all that surprising – which says a lot to start with.
From the edge of his own box the stopper picked out the run of his fellow Spaniard, dropped the ball from his left glove, pinged it with his right-foot in that distinct style of his and, a few seconds later, it dropped perfectly for Riera just inside the Villa box.
There was still plenty to do, but Riera simply enhanced what had gone before by emphatically finding the net – via the underside of the crossbar – with a first-time left-footed volley.
He featured regularly throughout the remainder of the 2008/09 campaign. It was his cross which allowed Dirk Kuyt to put Liverpool 4-3 ahead in the crazy Champions League quarter-final second-leg at Chelsea on April 14 – where an eventual 4-4 draw would ultimately see the Reds eliminated 7-5 on aggregate.
Things would be trickier in 2009/10, though. For the team, the club and for him. A seventh-placed Premier League finish and Champions League group stage exit reflected that. As did the increasingly problematic ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett.
After making only 16 appearances across all competitions, though – the last of which came on March 11, 2010, in a 1-0 Europa League Round of 16 first-leg defeat at Lille – an interview with Radio Marca later that month brought some choice words and all but ended his time at Liverpool.
“I’ve been here two years and know how he [Benítez] is. He has never sorted out a situation with a player by talking with him. His dialogue with the players is practically nil.Embed from Getty Images
“My aim is to go to the World Cup and for this I have to be playing. 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,” said Riera.
Unsurprisingly, that didn’t go down well. A two-week suspension followed and a summer transfer was widely anticipated.
That would prove to be the case. Although, had it not been for a knee injury – which prevented him from joining up with pre-season training – he may have had a shot under new boss Roy Hodgson.
As it was, he moved to Greek side Olympiacos on July 23 for an initial £3.3m fee.
An unfortunate way for his Anfield career to end. It was somewhat his own doing, admittedly, but he did produce some genuinely memorable moments – particularly during that excellent 2008/09 season.
He’d spend one year in Athens before he joined Turkish club Galatasaray in 2011.
His three-season stint in Istanbul arguably represented the most successful spell of his career.
He was a regular in 2011/12 and 2012/13 – both of which saw the club win the Turkish Süper Lig. The 2012 Turkish Super Cup was also claimed, but Riera’s game time dwindled in the early months of his third season there and that cued a return to England in January 2014, with Championship side Watford.
After struggling to nail down a regular place at Vicarage Road, he moved onto Italian outfit Udinese that summer.
He was sacked before he’d made a single Serie A appearance, though. This, seemingly, was because he had opted to attend a poker tournament in Slovenia instead of his club’s match against Chievo Verona in late November.Embed from Getty Images
He returned to his hometown club, Real Mallorca in March 2015 but played only six times prior to joining Slovenian side NK Zavrč that September.
It was a short stay there, too. Having featured on 12 occasions he moved on to FC Koper – also of Slovenia – in January 2016 but, after making just one appearance, he only stayed until the summer.
Following a spell of around 18 months without a club, Riera announced his retirement – at the age of 35 – on January 24, 2018.
Quite the career, with a fair few stories to tell. He produced plenty of positive moments for Liverpool but – as with other parts of his career – it’s difficult to avoid feeling like he could have achieved more, given the range of attributes he evidently possessed.
Quotes and appearance, goals and assists statistics from lfchistory.net.
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