Phoenix hope Spanish angel Riera can deliver

SAM WORTHINGTON
Last updated 05:00 30/11/2013
Albert Riera
DEAN KOZANIC/Fairfax NZ
SPANISH ANGEL: Albert Riera's path to the Wellington Phoenix has been unconventional.

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You get the feeling that Albert Riera can shrug off a bad day at the office better than most.

The Wellington Phoenix midfielder has spent most of his working life as a paramedic in Spain, which puts a poor pass or mistimed tackle into perspective.

"Soccer had been more of a hobby than a job, a release," said the 29-year-old, who initially arrived in New Zealand on holiday three years ago.

"Every time you step on the ground, you forget about the stuff you might have seen and it's all right. To be honest sometimes I miss the adrenaline you have while you are working."

Born in the football mecca of Barcelona, Riera was a semi-professional in Spain's third division while juggling his other career.

Work and training made for long days - up at 7am and home at midnight.

Hence the desire to take a year out from football and travel New Zealand with mates - but Riera's father somewhat scuppered those plans.

Riera Sr urged his son 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 - 29 years old, we're still waiting for you, you were supposed to come back in one year."

Riera quickly established himself as one of the premier players in the national league but was stunned when Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick came calling, following City's 1-0 upset pre-season win.

He has featured in all six of the Phoenix's games this season and will do so again tomorrow against Western Sydney in Wellington.

Again, his life experience has helped with the step up to professional football, at big stadiums, against big names.

"You can compare it because you have to make decisions quick, like in my job. It is the sort of job that makes you go through life with more calm in a tense situation, you don't panic. You have to calm down and make proper decisions. It helps a lot really."

That mature outlook shines through in his play.

Riera's brief is to sit deep as a holding midfielder and help build Phoenix attacks with short, accurate passing and constant movement.

He may get a chance to start tomorrow, with Manny Muscat shifting from midfield to replace Reece Caira at left back.

Merrick is concerned about the influence of outstanding Wanderers right back Jerome Polenz, whose marauding runs gave the Phoenix fits in the 1-1 round two draw in Parramatta.

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"I just like that experience going into a game like this," Merrick said.

"I just don't want to concede goals through naivety and slight errors ... Manny is certainly going to bolster a strong defence."

The Phoenix are desperate to notch their first win after shading Sydney FC in general play last Saturday yet losing 2-1.

They have caught the well-drilled Wanderers at a good time - missing key attacking trio Shinji Ono, Youssouf Hersi and Tomi Juric through injury.

"We've got the squad here to win games and to be honest I'm disappointed we haven't won a couple of games already," Merrick said.

"It'd be great to get a win, more for their confidence than for me.

HOW THEY LINE UP

Wellington Phoenix (from): Glen Moss, Louis Fenton, Ben Sigmund, Andrew Durante, Manny Muscat, Albert Riera, Vince Lia, Jason Hicks, Carlos Hernandez, Kenny Cunningham, Stein Huysegems, Lewis Italiano, Michael Boxall, Leo Bertos, Paul Ifill, Tyler Boyd, Josh Brindell-South

Western Sydney Wanderers (from): Ante Covic, Jerome Polenz, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Michael Beauchamp, Adam D'Apuzzo, Iacopo La Rocca, Mateo Poljak, Aaron Mooy, Shannon Cole, Brendon Santalab, Mark Bridge, Jerrad Tyson, Matthew Spiranovic, Dean Heffernan, Tahj Minniecon, Labinot Haliti, Jason Trifiro

- The Dominion Post

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