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Albert Riera; Departing from Liverpool and reconciling with Benitez and masked ultras

Sep 29, 2022

An irate 20-person mob of the club’s ultras gatecrashed the former Liverpool winger’s unveiling press conference at Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia in July and told him to leave.

The former Croatian international Robert Prosinecki left his position as manager after only three months due to a disagreement with owner Adam Delius, which infuriated the Green Dragons, many of whom were wearing masks.

They aren’t protesting the appointment of the Spaniard anymore. Olimpija now leads the Slovenian PrvaLiga by eight points after winning nine of their last ten games.

Riera beams and says, “It was a crazy start. “I was aware from the previous season that relations between the club’s management and the supporters were not good. Similar to Manchester City or Liverpool in England is Slovenia’s Olimpija Ljubljana. They placed third out of 10 teams last season, which is comparable to Liverpool placing in the middle of the pack.

“The fans were disappointed and protesting (against the owner). They wanted Prosinecki to continue as coach. Croatia and Slovenia are close, they’re like brothers, and Prosinecki is a legend. But the club felt they needed a change to a different type of football and I was ready to take the opportunity.

In the course of an hour, Mallorca-native Riera keeps the audience interested as he reflects on his playing career, which has taken him to Spain, France, England, Greece, Turkey, Italy, Slovenia, and Russia.

On a few of the conflicts that arose along the way, the 40-year-old is eager to clear the air. From his public criticism of Rafael Benitez, which was quickly followed by his departure from Anfield, to the altercation with Felipe Melo, a teammate at Galatasaray, to his allegations that he was fired from Udinese for visiting a casino rather than a game.

Before taking over at Olimpija this summer, he served as Domenec Torrent’s assistant manager at Galatasaray after earning his UEFA Pro Licence.

Real Mallorca, Riera’s childhood club, won the Copa del Rey in 2003, setting the stage for the rest of his playing career. He then relocated to Bordeaux before going back to his own country to play for Espanyol. During the second half of the 2005–06 season, he played on loan for Manchester City and had his first taste of English football. Under manager Stuart Pearce, it turned out to be a cultural shock as City finished 15th in the Premier League.

In the 2007 UEFA Cup final, Riera scored for Valverde’s Espanyol, but Sevilla painfully defeated them on penalties. He immediately made his senior debut for Spain against Denmark and went on to earn 16 caps.

He had Liverpool and Everton competing for his services in the summer of 2008. On the deadline day, he arrived at Anfield after a fee of £8 million ($8.5 million) was agreed upon.

As Benitez’s team launched a title campaign, Riera put together an amazing first season, scoring five goals in 40 appearances across all competitions. Despite only losing two league games, they ended four points behind champions Manchester United due to too many draws.

The wheels fell off the following season. After Alonso left for Real Madrid, the club’s off-field issues grew worse under the disastrous ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett. Riera, who only made nine league starts in 2009–10, had his own issues to deal with.

Riera gave an interview to Radio Marca in March 2010 criticizing his manager’s treatment of him because he was out of favor under Benitez and was aware that his chances of attending the 2010 World Cup were rapidly dwindling.

Riera transferred to Greek club Olympiacos, where he was reunited with Valverde, while Liverpool limped home in seventh place in May and Benitez was sacked by Roy Hodgson.

In 2014, Riera signed a free-agent contract with Udinese but was shortly transferred to a sister team, Watford, where he spent the rest of the season. His dreams of playing in Serie A were crushed when he returned to Italy. His departure from the club in November 2014 was clouded by rumors that he had been fired for choosing to attend a poker tournament over Udinese’s match versus Chievo.

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