Albert Riera, a winger for Italian soccer club Udinese, has reportedly had his contract with the club terminated because of his decision to attend a poker tournament in Slovenia rather than attend the team’s match against Chievo on November 23.
While Riera, a 32-year-old who has previously played at clubs including Liverpool Manchester City and Galatasaray, denies that his poker playing had anything to do with his dismissal from the club, several media reports have put the onus squarely on the player’s participation in the tournament.
Riera had yet to play in a single game for Udinese, a club in Italy’s Serie A, the top soccer league in the nation. On November 29, the club announced that they would be parting ways with the player, saying it was a mutual decision.
“Udinese Calcio announces that the contract with the footballer Albert Ortega Riera has been terminated by mutual consent,” the club announced on its official website. “Udinese Calcio wishes the footballer all the best for his future career.”
But speculation mounted because of Riera’s exploits during the time of that November 23 match. Riera wasn’t just playing in a Slovenian poker tournament, he was nearly winning it. Playing at the Perla Casino in Nova Gorica, Riera made a run all the way to heads-up play, eventually finishing in second place to score â‚¬3,550 ($4,430).
Riera’s stay at Udinese wasn’t a pleasant one, at least according to some public comments made by the winger. On Twitter, Riera suggested that he was unhappy in his new situation, and that given the choice, he would have loved to have gone back to Galatasaray, a prominent Turkish club.
Riera’s poker play is not a surprise, as he had previously posted pictures on Twitter, playing with his teammates in between training sessions. However, the former Spanish international said that his trip to a poker tournament had nothing to do with the end of his time with Udinese.
“To clarify, the termination of the contract [was] by mutual agreement, not due to reasons outside the football,” Riera tweeted in response to the allegations that he was dropped because of the poker tournament.
Riera’s career has spanned 15 years, during which time he has played in Spain, England, Greece and Turkey. His longest stint was with Spanish side Espanyol, where he appeared in 72 games and scored eight goals. During that time, the team won a Copa del Rey title and once reached the final of the UEFA Cup. He also made 16 appearances for Spain’s national team, scoring four times in the process.
But Riera’s career has been on the decline for some time now. In March, he signed a contract with Udinese, and was then sent out on loan to Watford, a club in the second-tier of English soccer. Even at that lower level, he found trouble: though he scored one goal, he also received a two-match ban for improper conduct after having confronted officials when he was sent off for getting two yellow cards in a match against Charlton Athletic. He has not played in an official match since then.