WTTGT Writer: Jak Penny
How would you describe your time at Arsenal?
“It was a great experience. I was there from the age of 9 up until basically 20 years old you know. It was a hard period but it was also an enjoyable period of my career.”
What was it like to be in the first-team and around the likes of Bergkamp, Vieria and Overmars?
“People still ask questions now about how it was playing with players like that. It was a great opportunity for youngsters. They were the best players in the world during that period of their careers. Learning from them, watching them play and trying to style yourself on them is what we needed.”
When did you realise that you weren’t going to break through at Arsenal and how hard was that to take?
“It was a bit of a situation. If you look at my career at the club I was top goalscorer throughout the ranks, whether it be under 17’s, 18’s or the reserves. I was scoring goals and doing well.
“I think when it got to the point where things were being said to me; things weren’t happening how I’d expected. Things were happening in the background with people ringing up and asking if I would be interested in moving to their clubs. You start to realise then that if the club are allowing other clubs to come and talk to you, and allowing agents to come and talk to you, then you might not be coming through.”
Who did you model yourself on?
“I didn’t really have a hero when I was growing up but when I was at Arsenal, I was always told to watch Ian Wright (by Don Howe and Dob Gibbons). I watched him, his runs and things like that. During my young time he was the one I used to watch a lot but I didn’t really have an idol.
“I watched players like Romário back in the day. He was a joy to watch technically but as you grow up, and you don’t really have idols, you just try to develop your game yourself.
“Going abroad for five years helped me develop technically which was a side of my game that needed to be worked on. I’ve always had the strength and pace in my career with the technical side developing as I’ve got older.”
You were out on loan quite a lot. What’s that like for a young player?
“I went out on loan from Arsenal to Den Haag [in Holland] and that was through Arsène Wenger, Dennis Bergkamp, Marc Overmars, and their agent. Obviously with the latter coming from Holland they wanted me to go out and play there.
“I played for Den Haag for three months and it was a good experience. I needed to do it as I’d been playing reserves and had a little taste of first‐team experience in training before getting my debut.
Riza pulls a goal back late on for Den Haag
“I wanted to play. I thought I was ready and I scored 5 goals in 10 games [at Den Haag] so it was a good experience. I think youngsters need that nowadays as they’re not able to come through so young. They need to go and experience it all at first-team level.”
You then went to play in Turkey for a few years with Denizlispor and Trabzonspor respectively. What was it like moving to another country at such a young age?
“After I’d been on loan [to Den Haag] I moved to West Ham. I played there for two‐and‐a‐half years, finishing as top goalscorer [in the reserves] and training with the first-team regularly. I should have played a lot more at West Ham to be totally honest but for whatever reason I didn’t.
“I then I went on loan to Cambridge and did well there. The following year when I was out of contract I moved to Cambridge full‐time. I had a good season scoring 18 goals in the whole season and I that’s when I had interest from Turkey.
“I went out there and had a good five or six years, playing for one of the biggest clubs in the country [in Trabzonspor]. It was a good experience and I managed to play at a national level and pressed on in my career basically.
Riza scores for Trabzonspor in Turkey
“I played in the UEFA Cup and scored against Apoel to get us through to the second round and against Osasuna. Obviously whilst being at Tranbzon’ you get into Europe and play against some biggest teams. It was a nice part of my career.”
How does the game differ from England?
“[The players are] very technical out there. I always get asked the question ‘what’s the difference?’ and when you look at the players, technically they are very good, but tactically they had a bit of catching up to do.
“They don’t have the upbringing people have in England. It’s drilled into players in England whereas it’s more technical based coaching in Turkey. When a player gets the ball, it’s his chance to do something in the game. It’s very individual.
“It’s not so much team based; it’s more what individuals can do but it’s a good standard and they’ve taken a lot of good players to Turkey now. There are a lot of foreign players and they’re paying big money so it’s attractive for players to go out there.”
You came back to England and had a spell at Shrewsbury before joining your current team, Histon. Why did you come back to England?
“I had a salary problem with my club (Trabzonspor) in Turkey which is still ongoing with FIFA. I’ve not had much support from the [Turkish] FA which is frustrating. They’ve classed me as a Turkish person, yet I was born in England and played in England all my life, which has caused more problems; when it comes to cash and FIFA protecting me, they haven’t at all. It’s been a bit of a letdown.
“I’m pressing on, it’s still ongoing and I’m still trying to get people to stand up and listen to me about what happened. I remain hopeful it will get heard and it will go to whoever needs to look at it.
“I’m sure it will get sorted out and I will get what I’m owed from Turkey and the Turkish Federation.
“All of that aside, I had to come back to England because I got a ban for leaving Trabzon’ [because of the salary problems] and the FA didn’t protect me basically. I missed out on a good year in my career [because of the ban].
“Eventually I ended up coming back to England with Shrewsbury. I just didn’t get the chance to play very much there. Paul Simpson took me and then didn’t play me which was a waste of time.
“Now I’m trying to resurrect my career and last year I played at Histon. I scored 12 goals in a tough season. Now I’m just trying push back up and reach the highest level I can.
How are you enjoying life at Histon?
“It’s a very good club. They’re trying to do things right but they’ve had a few problems themselves. We were relegated this year and I’m out of contract now. I’ve been offered a new deal but I’m waiting ‘till the start of the season to see if anything else comes up.
“I’ll take it from there. Obviously I want to play at the highest level I can play at. I still can play higher than the Conference. I am confident in myself and my body can sustain the physical side of the game, so all I want to do is play and do well.
“I want to cause problems to defences which is what I’m all about; and that’s what I intend to do.”
What’s next for Ömer Riza?
“I feel like I’m a very rounded player at the age of 31 and I’m at my best at the minute. I feel very good, very mature in my mind when I play football and I feel physically good. I played my first full season in a while last year and it was just nice to play.
“Now, I can’t wait to start next year wherever it may be to start scoring goals again.”