Albert Riera Phoenix's player of the year
Albert Riera completed a remarkable transition into professional football tonight by winning the Phoenix's player of the year award.
The Spanish midfielder arrived in New Zealand four years ago on a holiday from his previous day job as a paramedic.
But he ended up on the books of national league club Auckland City and caught the attention of Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick during a pre-season game last year.
Riera, 30, made 17 appearances for the Phoenix this season before being sidelined with groin and abdominal injuries.
His tough tackling and passing vision was badly missed in the final 10 games as the Phoenix faded badly to finish ninth of 10 A-League teams.
Riera told The Dominion Post in November that he had been close to giving football away when he travelled to New Zealand.
But his father urged him to email Auckland City coach and fellow Barcelonan Ramon Tribulietx about playing opportunities.
''I was fed up with soccer but I did it for him, to just shut him up. I emailed Ramon thinking he wouldn't reply but he did. I had a one-week trial and he signed me. My friends keep laughing at me... 'we're still waiting for you, you were supposed to come back in one year'.''
Durable midfielder Vince Lia won the players' player award at the end-of-season dinner at Parliament's Banquet Hall.
Lia is the only foundation player remaining at the club.
Promising striker Tyler Boyd was judged the under-23 player of the year and Kenny Cunningham won goal of the year for his screamer in the 5-0 romp against Melbourne Victory.
The contributions of Wellington product Leo Bertos and Stein Huysegems were also recognised after the pair were let go by the club on Sunday.
Golden boot Huysegems is keen to stay in the A-League and has been linked with a move to minor premiers Brisbane Roar.
Brisbane are seeking a replacement for Besart Berisha, who will join the Victory next season.
Brisbane's Courier-Mail reported that initial contact between Huysegems' representatives and Roar officials was made some time ago but talks were put on hold while he tried to strike a new deal with the Phoenix.
RESULTS AT A GLANCE
Player of the year: Albert Riera
Players' player: Vince Lia
Under-23 player: Tyler Boyd
Golden boot: Stein Huysegems
Goal of the year: Kenny Cunningham
The Dominion Post