Omer Riza On Arsenal, Watford And Managerial Ambitions

Omer Riza On Arsenal, Watford And Managerial Ambitions

An interview with Omer Riza, by Callum McFadden for WFi.

You progressed through the youth system at Arsenal and made your way into the first team which is a dream of many players. Just how much did you learn from your association with Arsenal?

“I was at Arsenal from the age of 9, so I was there for a long time, up until the age of 20 before I moved to West Ham.

“It’s a tough environment to be in, but it’s very competitive and only the best of the best survive.

“There were a lot of players that came in each year, a lot of players that went out each year.

“Within my year group, we were fortunate enough to have players who went on to have good careers.

“Ashley Cole was in my group as were players like Julian Gray, Stuart Taylor and Reece Weston, among others.

“They are all still involved in the game now after all these years which is great to see as we came through a group together as players and we are now going on in our careers as coaches or by working within football in another capacity.

“When you’re at Arsenal, you’re taught you don’t lose, basically. That’s what we were taught, we don’t lose to anyone. If we do lose, the repercussions of it were, well, we’re Arsenal, and that is not good enough.

“That was the mindset at the time and that’s what kept you pushing on to be the best you could become. I was fortunate enough to be there and then make it to be around the first team for a couple of seasons too.”

What was it like working with Don Howe in the youth system?

“Working with Don Howe taught me a lot in respect of the different ways of coaching and how to handle high expectations.

“When I look back as a coach now myself, I realise what he offered and what he gave to help support every player in what they would become which I think is fundamental because I’ve come to where I am now from a whole range of different places to get to this point.“

In terms of your career, you played abroad on loan at Ado Den Haag while you were at Arsenal. You also played in Turkey as well. What were those experiences abroad like from a footballing perspective?

“I went abroad with Den Haag through Arsene Wenger who had a connection with some of the people at Den Haag.

“I’d been training with the first team every day and Arsene told me that he wanted to be able to see me given more opportunities to play at first-team level and that a loan would be vital in doing that.

“So, off I went to the Netherlands. I was there for three months, and I scored five goals in ten games. Unfortunately, I was also sent off in a game so missed three games while I was there too.

“Overall, it was a great experience as I learned a different style of football, a different mentality, what it was like to work with different people and experience different coaching styles.

“I was coached by Andre Hoekstra, who Johan Cruyff said was one of the best strikers he’s ever played with in his career, so it was amazing to be coached by someone like Andre.

“He was a good guy, good mannerisms and good with people. He helped me return to Arsenal as a young man rather than feeling like a young boy anymore.

“Then, later in my career, after a strong spell at Cambridge United after I had left Arsenal and then West Ham, I went to play in the Turkish Super League.

“The mentality in Turkey was very different to football in the UK.

“In the UK, it’s sort of like survival of the fittest. You know — respect and be respected. Whereas out there, it’s sort of respect your elders and that’s it.

“I played for two clubs out in Turkey, Denizlispor and Trabzonspor, and we faced top-class players such as Alex Song, who I played with at West Ham who came over to Galatasaray and Nicolas Anelka, who I also played with at Arsenal, who came over to Fenerbahce.

“So, the league was of a high standard, you know. I was playing against top teams and top players every single week.

“Thankfully, I had a good, five years out there at a very high level before I returned to England following a dispute over unpaid wages which sadly could be an issue at some of the smaller clubs in Turkey at times.”

Following retirement, you entered the world of coaching. Was that something that you were always clear in wanting to go into when you stopped playing?

“It was not something that I had planned to go into many years before the end of my playing career.

“I went to Shrewsbury towards the end of my career and was asked if I wanted to study for my UEFA B license.

“I saw it as another good learning opportunity so I grasped it and after I completed the B licensee, I started to enjoy it and believe that it was a route that I would like to go down.

“My first opportunity to coach came when my friend, Dave Livermore, went into Histon in the conference as manager and asked me to join him as player/coach.

“So, I started my coaching there, coaching the strikers and coaching the attacking phases of play. From there, I went on to become a player/manager of Cheshunt in Non-League to give me the experience of managing in my own right before I moved to Leyton Orient to work in their academy.

“I started coaching their under 15/16’s then moved up to coaching the under 18’s before I went on to become assistant manager of the first team alongside Danny Webb before things developed from there over the next year or so until I had the opportunity to become a first-team manager.

“I was given the opportunity to manage the first team after Danny left the club. I was set to leave with him, but the club asked me to take the job on and Danny told me that I had to stay and take the opportunity as it might not come again.

“It was a difficult period for the club around that time but, I said, right, I’ll have a go.

“During my short spell in charge, I embedded youngsters into the team, we had an attacking playing style and got some good results such as drawing with Luton away and beating Hartlepool at home which was not bad for a team mostly made up of academy players.

“It was a real taster for me of what first team management in the Football League was like and I had to deal with a lot of things at Orient off the field at that time. Some of the stuff was just crazy but I dealt with it well and it put me in good stead to progress to where I am now.”

Finally, Omer, after Orient, you moved to Watford and worked in the academy before progressing to first-team level again. You have since recently departed the club, are you now looking to go in somewhere as a manager in your next role or are you open to being an assistant again at first-team football?

“I went in at Watford working with the under 15/16s again before progressing up the ladder to become Under-21s assistant manager, then under-21s manager before moving into the first team where I was assistant coach under Valerian Ismael.

“I learned a lot from my experiences at Watford and I am grateful for the opportunities that I had there even if I was disappointed with how things ended.

“Yes, I want to be a head coach and I want to be given the opportunity to prove myself, as everyone else who was in my cohort on the UEFA pro licence has had, such as Steven Schumacher, Mark Bonner, John Mousinho and Graham Coughlan among others.

“I love seeing them succeed in the game and I’m the first to congratulate them for everything they’ve succeeded in but I’m also waiting for my opportunity when I get it, I will not be letting it go because I am determined to succeed.

“I know that have to be patient and if I need to go in and assist someone in the meantime then I will do that with the same mindset of knowing that I’m there to help them be successful like I always do whoever I work under.

“At this moment, I keep working hard to get better and better at what I do to ensure that I am ready for my opportunity to arise.”