Ömer Riza, an Arsenal player in The Hague.

Na de winterstop, in het seizoen 1998 / 1999, was daar ineens Ömer Riza bij ADO Den Haag. Een speler van het grote Arsenal. Dit is voor de tijd dat alle Europese ploegen selecties hadden van 40+ en elk jeugdtoernooi willekeurig leeg kochten omdat een jong talent drie keer kon hooghouden. Ik besprak met hem zijn tijd in de Jupiler League. Ook stelde ik hem een aantal vragen waar jonge spelers, want ze vertrekken steeds vroeger, wat aan hebben. Want na zijn goede periode in onze prachtige Jupiler League, ging het nog even goed met een aantal mooie momenten in Turkije bij Denizlispor en Trabzonspor, maar daarna ging het qua niveau snel bergafwaarts,  zeker met de wetenschap dat Ömer Riza het stempel van groot talent had in zijn tijd bij Arsenal.

Born and raised in Edmonton, playing at one of the greatest academies in English football. You where brought in a star filled Arsenal at the age of twenty. If you look at all the promoted youth players in 1998/1999, we can concluded it was a horrific hard job to get a chance in the first team. That season was not an exception, what do you think about that system? Do academy players get a honest chance?

You are right, it was and still is a very difficult club to come through as a youngster, you need to be good enough to get anywhere near the first team, i achieved allot whilst at Arsenal and i learned from some great coaches.
Yes , maybe i should have or could have had more chances then i got to play but this is the nature of the beast, at the time when i was at the club there were some great players that i had played and trained with , it wasn’t to be for all of the reasons that come up in so many conversations regarding the youth system, the best thing for me to say is , i still had a great education at the club and all those principles have remained with me throughout my career , both as a player and a coach, The Arsenal way.

After not getting in the squad regularly you went to ADO Den Haag, then playing at the second level in Holland. How did you end up there? Was it big news in Den Haag? Back then it was not as normal as nowadays that a relatively small team could loan a player from such a big team.

-I t was rare for Arsenal to loan players at that time, i knew that Dennis and Marc were involved in me going to Den Haag, it was through there agent knowing Wenger, his name was Rob Jansen, Dennis and Marc use to like the way i played, so i went for experience on the view that i would come back ready for pre season at Arsenal the following season. I really enjoyed my time in Holland , the fans were very excited and it was great experience.

Did you enjoy your time in Den Haag? What where your thoughts about the level of the competition?

It was great to go learn a different style of play, the game was very technical and the players were technically very good, not to mention that it was great to kit senior match experience, it was nice to be involved in important fixtures, i scored 3 and assisted 5 in 11 games , it was a good part of my career.

You only played at ADO for three months, did you follow them after you left? Do you still have contact with anyone from the club back then? Where there players who helped you during your spell?

I still speak with a couple of the players by social media from time to time, the players and staff were great to me when in holland , they treated me very well and i couldn’t have asked for better treatment.

ADO has a notorious fanbase, Midden-Noord, how was your bond with them? Where you loved by the fans?

The fans loved me at Den Haag, I was an exciting player with lots of speed and pace, I always worked hard on the pitch and I think wherever you go the fans like that , they had a few good songs that they sang for me.

You had an amazing game against Excelsior, scoring two and one assist, do you remember that game?

I remember most of my games , yes this was a good game and the team played well, it was nice to play well as a team and individually stand out, it was nice.

You only missed three games due a red card suspension, very early in game against Go Ahead Eagles, do you remember that? Was it a harsh foul that you’ve got three games?

Yes , i remember this game very well, the opposition wanted to kick me all over the pitch, they knew i was causing allot of problems in previous games so they wanted to upset me, It worked as i swung my leg at another player and got a red card, It happens some times but three games was very harsh, i missed some important games.

Omer Riza

After returning home you had spells at Cambridge and Barnet, in hind sight would you’ve rather returned to Holland once again?

-My time at both clubs was very successful, i went on loan to Barnet scoring 5 goals in 10 games and i scored 18 goals in 45 for cambridge , also playing in league 1, in hindsight if Arsenal was honest with me in the first place before going out to Den Haag maybe my decisions would have been different. Before i went to Den Haag Arsene told me to play rest of season and come back ready to train pre season with first team, this was my dream , if i knew they wanted to sell me i would’ve gone, i was offered a 3 year deal and PSV were already showing interest, so yes in hindsight , yes i should have stayed.
A ll that aside , i still went on to play for many years , including Turkish super log for 7 seasons and at big clubs, playing in europe ect, so its hard to look back and say should , would, could.

For the youngster today in academies of the big clubs what would be your advice? Stay and fight for a place, go on a loan, abroad or in the same country, or get a transfer?

-Work your hardest , be the best you can be, treat your body and mind correctly and let your football do the talking, the rest will fall into place, you will reach your level eventually, the important thing is sustaining it.

Omer Riza1