LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, April 7, 2009: Liverpool's Albert Riera during a press conference at Anfield ahead of the UEFA Champions League First Quarter Final 1st Leg against Chelsea. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Ex-Liverpool player takes next step as manager with rare European comeback

Albert Riera’s reputation as a manager blossomed further this week as his new side, NK Celje, pulled off a dramatic European comeback.

After a nomadic career that took in spells in seven different countries and never more than three years at any club, Riera is making his mark as a manager.

Though a former Spain international who worked under Rafa Benitez, his pathway off the field has been less illuminated than the likes of Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso.

Two spells as assistant at Galatasaray then led Riera back to Slovenia, where he ended his playing career – first in charge at Olimpija Ljubljana and now Celje.

A tumultuous exit from Olimpija – after winning the double, no less – did little to halt his momentum, and now he is leading Celje into Europe.

On Thursday, the PrvaLiga club produced an unlikely comeback to knock Vitoria de Guimaraes out of the Europa Conference League at the second qualifying round.

17.07.2010, Sportanlage Schnabelholz, Altach, AUT, Testspiel, Al Hilal vs Liverpool FC, im Bild Alberto Riera, (Liverpool FC, #11), EXPA Pictures © 2010, PhotoCredit: EXPA/ J. Feichter

Vitoria went into the two-legged tie 252 places above Celje in UEFA’s rankings, and the first leg ended in a 4-3 win for the Portuguese side.

The odds were stacked against Celje despite scoring three at home, having only won three times on the road in Europe in their history.

But a second-half strike from Gregor Bajde levelled the tie on aggregate and eventually earned a penalty shootout – which Celje won 4-2.

“What an achievement boys!” Riera wrote on Twitter after the triumph.

“HOW you have played makes me believe in you. Don’t stop improving, the best is yet to come.”

The 41-year-old gained admirers for his work at Olimpija as he employed a progressive, free-flowing style of play, which he has now translated to Celje.

It enhances his reputation as a young manager which, if his success continues, will no doubt attract interest from elsewhere in Europe.

Next up in Celje’s bid to qualify for the Europa Conference League is a two-legged clash with Belarusian outfit FC Neman Grodno on August 10 and 17.

If they win that, they will then face either Bodo/Glimt or FC Pyunik in the playoff round, to determine a place in the group stage.