Albert Riera’s trip to New Zealand was only meant to last a year.
The Spaniard envisioned a holiday away from football when he arrived in 2011 but he has stayed more than a decade and carved out a successful playing career in the Pacific.
Having made his debut for Auckland City FC shortly after touching down, he has gone on to collect more than 140 caps for the Navy Blues across two stints that was punctuated by a spell with the Wellington Phoenix in the A-League from 2013-2016.
His time at the Phoenix was fruitful on a personal level as he was named the club’s best player in the 2013-2014 campaign, while he also started for the A-League All Stars in their 3-2 defeat to Juventus in Sydney in 2014.
He returned to Auckland City in late 2016 and has been a consistent contributor in the past few years in New Zealand’s national league, adding to his array of domestic and continental titles.
Almost like clockwork, the Navy Blues have made a return to the playoffs this season and they will host Eastern Suburbs AFC in their ISPS Handa Men’s Premiership semi-final at Kiwitea Street on Sunday.
Riera is no longer a regular starter like he was in his younger years but there’s still life left in the 37-year-old midfielder.
“We started a bit slow but I think we kind of gelled better towards the end and it’s when you want to win games actually, when it counts,” Riera said of his side’s campaign.
“We are quite confident and happy with the way we finished the season.”
On top of his decorated playing career on these shores, Riera has started to make progress as a coach working with a range of age-group teams in Auckland.
He knows he is moving towards the final stage of his playing days and coaching seems an obvious move for him.
The former paramedic recently attended the OFC/NZF B Licence coaching course at OFC headquarters having attained his C Licence a couple of years ago.
“I think it’s a natural way to go once you finish in your career,” he said.
“I think I’m going to give it a go and see if I’m good at it.”
Riera said the B Licence course was a great opportunity for him to develop the skills to allow him to communicate his vision for the game.
“These courses help you to convey that to the players that you have in front of you, so it’s a great experience.”
This season marks the final iteration of New Zealand’s national league in its current form before it moves to a new model for 2021.
Riera isn’t sure where he will end up but he wants to kick on somewhere.
“Hopefully I can hold up there and play next season but we’ll see how my body goes with that.”
One thing is for sure though, Riera isn’t in any hurry to leave his adopted home having become a New Zealand citizen in 2018.
“It’s been fantastic,” he said of the move. “That’s why I’ve been here 10 years. I was planning on coming just for one year and that’s probably the best way to sum it up. It was supposed to be a short time away from football and then it became a full-time job.”