Albert Riera's Kiwi holiday heads into extra time

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 05:00 16/01/2014
Albert Riera
DEAN KOZANIC/Fairfax NZ
SPANISH ANGEL: Albert Riera's path to the Wellington Phoenix has been unconventional.

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It's turning out to be some visit for Albert Riera.

The 30-year-old Spaniard only wanted to spend a year in New Zealand, but it will be at least four before the former paramedic goes home after the Wellington Phoenix extended his A-League contract yesterday.

A tenacious tackler, with vision and class on the ball, Riera will run the Phoenix's midfield until at least the end of the 2014/15 season, having initially been signed from Auckland City as a potential back-up player.

A semi-professional player back home, football was the furthest thing from his mind when he came to this country on a working holiday visa. He was basically on an OE which, through a combination of chance and his obvious playing ability, has gone in an unexpected direction.

"It is not normal if you look at the beginning, when I came here, and why I came," Riera said yesterday.

"Now it's been nearly three years and things have changed completely but, of course, I've been the one living the situation and the circumstances so I've taken it step by step. It's not a matter of overnight, but when people hear my story it seems overnight and 'oh he's just become a professional soccer player'."

Riera would've been happy to keep playing for Auckland and never regarded the A-League as a possibility, mostly because he didn't think clubs would blow an import spot on a guy from the New Zealand domestic scene.

But the shine coach Ernie Merrick took to Riera, when the Phoenix played Auckland in a pre-season friendly, hasn't dulled and he's quickly become an integral member of the side.

Riera hadn't been sweating on an extension to his deal, but was delighted to get one.

"I'm enjoying the life here now and the time goes by so quick, so that means I'm enjoying it. The day I'm not enjoying it all, no matter what I'm doing, I'll change the scenario.

"But now I'm enjoying it and I don't think about going back [to Spain]. Just maybe to catch up with friends and family every now and then, once a year or whatever."

Michael Boxall got the same good news as Riera yesterday, when the club announced he'll be around for another year too. Originally signed by Ricki Herbert, the central defender barely featured for the Phoenix last season.

But Boxall's two performances in the unfamiliar role of right back have enthused Merrick and an extended run in the playing XI looks likely for the 25-year-old.

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Riera and Boxall will need to be at their best on Saturday night, when the ninth-placed Phoenix host Merrick's old Melbourne Victory side at Westpac Stadium. Goals from Archie Thompson, Kosta Barbarouses and Gui Finkler saw the Victory beat Western Sydney 3-1 on Tuesday and move to third on the table.

- The Dominion Post

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