Interview: Former Shrewsbury Town and Arsenal Striker Omer Riza

In an exclusive interview, former Shrewsbury Town striker Omer Riza reveals his thoughts on the ongoing legal case against the Turkish Football Federation.

His name has a certain je ne sais quoi – and Omer Riza also possessed the footballing abilities to back it up.

A career at the one of the best clubs in Europe seemed destined for the now 39-year-old, when he began his journey at Arsenal.

He made his debut in a League Cup clash against Derby County in November 1998, and would go on to travel with the squad for Champions League games against Dynamo Kiev and Panathinaikos.

But competition for places at Arsenal was extremely tough to say the least, with world renowned stars such as Nicholas Anelka, Dennis Bergkamp, and Ian Wright all on the playing staff.

But the enigmatic Riza is confident in his convictions that he should have been given more opportunities at the Gunners.

Speaking exclusively to Shropshire Live, Omer Riza said: “I feel that I was mistreated by certain individuals that had an impact on the decisions being made.

“I was young and impatient but ready to play. I remember Don Howe (then Arenal youth manager) saying to me, “you’re ready to go over regularly and get your opportunity.”

“Arsene Wenger was great, I spoke to him a couple of months ago whilst playing in a charity match, it was nice to catch up and hear him talk about what kind of player I was.”

But it is clear that despite his admiration for Arsenal’s greatest ever boss, Riza was unhappy with his time at the North London outfit.

He revealed in an interview with Planet Football: “There were players like Kaba Diawara, Fabian Caballero, and Christopher Wreah ahead of me when I don’t think they should have been.

“Wenger told me to be ready for the following season, but then I was told there were calls coming in for me from lots of clubs.

“If Arsenal wanted me to stay, why were they telling me about all these calls? I was being told different things, so I was confused.”

It became relatively clear following a loan spell with Dutch side ADO Den Haag, that it was time to move on.

He joined West Ham United, but found the same problems there that were present at Arsenal; with Paolo Di Canio, Paulo Wanchope, and Freddie Kanoute all vying for spots in the first team.

Riza spent time on loan at Barnet and Cambridge, before signing for the latter on a permanent basis in 2002.

It was at the Abbey Stadium where the Edmonton born striker’s career took off. He netted 20 times in 46 matches, which prompted Turkish team Denizlispor to snap up his services.

However, whilst plying his trade with Trabzonspor, Riza walked out of the club in January 2008 stating that he had not been paid, which led to the Turkish Football Federation banning him from featuring for any club.

He said: “The ban implemented by the Turkish Football Federation was totally against my rights, it’s been a lengthy court process and is still ongoing.

“Without a shadow of a doubt, it damaged my career, I still feel that with more time and opportunity I would have become an important player for Shrewsbury as I felt good – there’s only so much that you can do as a bit-part player unfortunately.

“I loved it at the club, it was nice to back from Turkey after a lengthy ban and it was nice to get going again.

“It was a shame I couldn’t really find or hold down a spot in the team, but Paul Simpson had other ideas and I had to respect that. It’s a great club with great people.”

Despite joining Town in February 2009 following a successful trial period, Riza did not make his debut until appearing as a second half substitute against Rotherham in April 2009.

Riza would go on to make just 13 appearances for Shrewsbury, without scoring a league goal, but the ban imposed by the Turkish Football Federation undoubtedly had an impact on his ability to shine for the club.

He would go on to feature for various non-league outfits including Boreham Wood and Histon.

But having played for top-flight clubs across Europe, the transition to non-league football was always going to be a struggle.

Speaking to Football Planet Riza said that “Conference football wore me down,” before adding to us: “It was difficult in the sense of not quite being in the same wave length as most players, and the game becoming much more complicated because players sometimes did too much.

“In general, I see it as part of the pathway to becoming coach/manager.”

Following a spell in charge of Cheshunt, Riza took the bold decision to take charge of crisis-hit Leyton Orient.

Under the stewardship of controversial owner Francesco Becchetti, Orient were in disarray with staff not being paid and fans left in the dark.

Despite Riza’s best effort in his seven games in charge, Orient were relegated to non-league for the first time in their 112-year history.

But Riza still looks back fondly on his time at Brisbane Road, calling it a “very enjoyable time, despite the difficult circumstances.”

He now coaches at Premier League side Watford. Speaking of his role at Vicarage Road, Riza added: “Watford is going well – lots of work with the 15-16 age groups and above.

“There is a great staff spirit and the club is doing well. It’s nice to be reunited with Andre Gray who I was with at Salop.

“He’s doing very well and it’s nice to see him every day, progressing his career. I’m currently U15’s coach with England as well, so overall I’m very happy with how my progression in the game is going.”

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Ryan Hillback
Ryan Hillback keeps us updated on match previews and reports as well as all the big Shrewsbury Town Football Club news.
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