From Barca to Blacktown: Oriol Riera's fantastic football journey
Swapping the Spanish countryside for the sprawling suburbs of Western Sydney may seem an odd decision but for Oriol Riera it has reinvigorated his career.
After over a decade of playing in La Liga and Segunda Division the 32-year old striker packed up his family and headed Down Under to become the Western Sydney Wanderers marquee ahead of Hyundai A-League Season 2017/18.
Aside from a six-month stint in England with Wigan in late 2014, Riera had remained in the country of his birth, floating around various clubs after coming through the youth systems of Catalan clubs Espanyol and Barcelona.
When asked why he had made such a huge move, Riera told aleague.com.au he had simply needed a fresh start.
“It is different [moving to Australia],” Riera said.
“When I take the decision last year it was different, after playing over 100 games in La Liga and also in the second division in Spain and I spoke to my family and I think I need something new, something very, very different and something also that helps me improve.”
Looking at his return, it is clear the change of scenery has worked.
While the Wanderers have struggled to reach the heady heights of their early years, Riera has still managed to make an impact on the Hyundai A-League, striking up a formidable strike rate of 20 goals across 34 matches.
However, none of this should come as a surprise when one takes a look at Riera’s education.
A Catalan man through and through, Riera went through the youth systems of rivals Espanyol and Barca, spending time at the same La Masia academy that produced the likes of Lionel Messi and Xavi.
While Riera only made one appearance for the first team, it certainly wasn’t from a lack of trying.
With only a youth contract to his name, the striker had to travel back and forth from his hometown, Vic, as well as learn to converse with teammates in both Catalan and Spanish.
“I went to Barcelona but not to Barca, to Espanyol, when I was 10 and everything changed because I grew up in a small town, about 70 kilometres from Barcelona and everything was very different,” Riera explained.
“Teammates are different, the language also because we speak Catalan and Spanish in Barcelona so you have to adapt with the language and new style of life.
“I had to go three or four days a week in a taxi to go to Barcelona, one to go and one to come back and to combine football with school was very different and very difficult.”
From Espanyol, Riera made the gigantic leap to La Masia where he was confronted with the extra challenge of maintaining his school grades while competing with some of the best youth in the country.
“When I grew up I trained with my father then when I went to La Masia I started training with them, everything technically and tactically,” he said.
“In La Masia in particular it is not just about football…you have to have good exams [results], if not you are out.”
At the end of the day however, football remains more than just a job for the Wanderers target man, it was there before he started getting paid and it will be there long after.
“I start playing football when I was five years old,” Riera recalled fondly.
“It was part of my life when I had training with the young teams and when I wasn’t training I was in the playground playing football with my friends….I think it will be part of my life always.”
Fitting then, that this football lover should find himself playing where Australian football took its first steps over a century ago.