UKRAINE CRISIS HELPS HORNETS
Spanish star Riera heads for safety
FOOTBALL and politics are rarely apart these days and Watford’s Albert Riera has revealed the ongoing crisis in Ukraine played a major role in his return to English football.
The winger, on loan at Vicarage Road from Udinese, was all set to join Metalist Kharkiv in February before the tension between Russia and Ukraine heightened to the point of affecting its domestic football.
Riera was out of contract after seeing his deal with Galatasary terminated early and was training with Spanish giants Valencia before planning to join up with his new teammates in Kharkiv.
Riera’s younger brother, Sito, was already playing in Ukraine for Chornomorets Odesa before Watford’s latest loanee was offered a way out of his contract.
Former Liverpool and Manchester City man Riera was looking forward to the new challenge but quickly realised it wasn’t the place to be making his latest career move.
“You cannot be just thinking about football in a situation like this,” said the 32-year-old.
“When I signed nothing in Ukraine was affecting the football there and my brother said they were playing as normal.
“But then everything happened so fast I had to made a quick decision and I knew Udinese were interested so I signed with them.
“A lot of the foreign players left the country and finished their contracts, including my brother, and Metalist offered me the chance to cancel my deal with them.”
Ukraine would have been Riera’s sixth different country in a nomadic career dating back to his days coming through the ranks at his hometown club Mallorca.
After spells with Bordeaux and Espanyol, Riera enjoyed a successful loan spell with Manchester City before signing for Liverpool in 2008 for £8million.
The winger, who has 16 international caps, spent two years on Merseyside before leaving shortly after the end of compatriot Rafa Benitez’s reign.
Riera admits leaving Anfield was the biggest regret of his career but he soon went on to win titles with Olympiakos and Galatasaray, something the midfielder says was always a huge motivator.
“I always prefer to play in a top team in a lower league. As players we like to go out and play for the win, and that’s why you play.
“Maybe I could have gone and played in a better league like Germany or Italy but in a team that sits mid-table and has no clear objectives. That’s not my mentality.
“I played for the best team in Greece, we won the championship and I played in the Champions League. It was the same in Turkey.
“I really enjoyed my time in Greece and Turkey. I won trophies and winning is the most important thing.”
Despite agreeing to join Udinese, Riera was too late to be added into the first-team squad so he was sent out on loan to Watford at the end of March. It’s a step down from playing in the top tiers of domestic leagues but Riera admits he’s been surprised by the talent on display in the Championship.
He adds: “When they told me I had the chance to come back to England, even if it’s not the Premier League, I was happy. It was a good option to come back.
“When I came here I was really surprised but in a good way. The standard is a good level and there are some good players. The team has really good quality, particularly with the ball.”
The Spaniard has been utilised as a left wing-back by Hornets boss Beppe Sannino due to the three-atthe-back system he adopts.
It’s a role Riera says he’s used to having played in a similar system at Galatasary.
“I’m a winger and I like to attack and create assists but the wingback role is one I like because you can choose when to attack,” he says. I just want to give my all for the team.
“We’ve dropped points with late goals recently but that’s football. We’re going to fight until the end of the season.”
TALENT: Albert Riera winning one of his 16 Spanish caps during the Confederations Cup