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[Football] A Winger at Last

Paul Grech Monday, December 22, 2008 , ,

Look at it whichever way you want, but it is impossible to escape the fact that Albert Riera was a fall back option. For most of the summer Rafael Benitez tried desperately to sign Gareth Barry who in all probability would have been deployed mostly on the left. It was only once it became obvious that Aston Villa would not be selling at a price acceptable to Liverpool that the name of Riera started being mentioned.

Inevitably, not many were happy. For, if most Liverpool fans were unsure about the wisdom of going after Barry particularly if this meant sacrificing Xabi Alonso, many were outright critical of Riera.

What did it for him at that early stage was his loan period at Manchester City a couple of years back. Riera had spent five months with Stuart Pearce’s team but the move was never made permanent and that was held against him. How can it be, the masses asked, that a player who wasn’t good enough for a team struggling against relegation was now expected to play a prominent role for one with the stated aim of challenging for the league title?

It was undoubtedly a valid question, one for which there still isn’t a clear answer. It would seem that whilst City wanted to sign Riera, their finances didn’t allow him to do so. At the same time he didn’t really do enough to impress anyone else for them to make a bid. In other words, no one really missed him once he went back to Spain.

Riera himself has since admitted that at the time he was still too young to fully express himself and show what he was really capable of doing. It was back home with Espanyol that his game really started to develop. As he matured, he became one of his team’s best players particularly excelling in their unexpected run to the final of the UEFA Cup, form that saw him force his way into the Spanish national team.

It was also the form that put him on Liverpool’s radar. Riera ticked many of the boxes that Benitez must have put down as being of vital importance: mature, with some experience of English football, relatively cheap, determined to play for the club and could provide width to the side.

The latter was perhaps the most important of all. Far too often in the recent past Liverpool had failed to transform draws into victories because too much of their game flowed through the centre of midfield. Riera, with his tendency to stay out as wide as possible coupled with the outrageous flicks that he occasionally tries out, has added another dimension to Liverpool’s game.

That much was seen on his debut against Manchester United where, immediately, the tide of opinion started to turn in his favour. A good game on the day, coupled with a very good win, was enough to guarantee the seal of approval or at least a partial one. Confirmation of that came in subsequent games during which he largely continued playing on the same level.

Yet it would be foolish to deem Riera an outright success: it is still far too early for that. Signs are promising, true, but there have been far too many instances of players who start off brilliantly only to fade away. Does the name of Harry Kewell ring a bell?

In particular there is that nagging doubt about his consistency. Wingers, by their very nature, tend to drift in and out of games and that is part of their game that has to be accepted. Riera fits into that description yet, on occasions, the out parts have been much more frequent than the ins. Equally it is telling that he is frequently substituted hinting that he tends to fade out of games.

So let’s be cautious and say that Riera is proving to be a good buy rather than an exceptional buy at least so far. He has improved a Liverpool’s squad that was desperately lacking someone of his ability yet the end of the season will be a better time to judge whether he was the winger that was needed or if he was simply the fall back option.

This article was published in Issue 55 of Anfield Island.


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Copyright 2010 Paul Grech: Writer