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Pirates' new boss Riveiro started coaching at 17 and has a fear of flying

A promo compilation picture released by Orlando Pirates of their new coach José Riveiro.
A promo compilation picture released by Orlando Pirates of their new coach José Riveiro.
Image: Orlando Pirates/Twitter

While the appointment of Orlando Pirates’ new coach Jose Riveiro has been greeted with bewilderment by many given he lacks experience and has not won trophies, the Spaniard is apparently well respected in his previous country of employment, Finland.

Veritably nothing is known in SA about 46-year-old Riveiro and internet searches turn up mostly that he has just three years’ head coaching experience at FC Inter Turku in Finland, and has not won silverware.

However, the coach left Turku — saying he was seeking a new challenge — on good terms. He had steered the unfashionable club, who boast one top-flight Veikkausliiga title in their 32-year history, to second, second and third place from 2019 to 2021.

Before that, Riveiro assisted the former Finnish international Mika Lehkosuo to two (in 2017 and 2018) of his three Veikkausliiga titles as manager of HJK Helsinki.

Head coach José Riveiro tells Panorama Football why he announced he would leave FC Inter Turku after the end of the season in 2021, when his contract would come to an end.

Where most of the rest of internet search information on Riveiro leaves only the bare bones of his story, thankfully more of the flesh was provided in a 2019 interview with Finnish tabloid Ilta-Sanomat.

In it, Riveiro reveals he had a fear of flying so took a 73-hour bus trip from Spain to Finland for his first job as an assistant coach at FC Honka in 2014. He was a childhood fan and adult season ticket-holder and then youth coach of the club from his city of birth and upbringing, Celta Vigo of Vigo in Spain.

The coach admitted he was not a spectacular player.

“Gran Peña [Riveiro’s team] played in the Spanish third level, which is roughly the number one in Finland. I realised I wasn’t going to be good, no matter how much work I did,” he said.

However, as a youth player he had started coaching an under-10 team when he was 17, and qualified for his Uefa B-licence coaching certificate at 19.

“I was always interested in the game. At the age of 14, I started travelling with my team’s coach to Porto [in Portugal] to see the Champions League. I also worked as a journalist for [Spanish weekly sports magazine] Don Balon, so I got into interviews and read a lot about football.”

His coach tasked the young player with compiling reports on opposition teams. “Those weren’t very in-depth, but interest in the game from the coach’s perspective grew,” Riveiro told Ilta-Sanomat.

Soon after retiring as a player in his 20s, Riveiro obtained his Uefa A-licence, then started coaching the U-11, U-15 and U-18 teams of Celta Vigo. He seemed set to be the coach of Celta's reserves when he was introduced by Spanish ex-footballer Pablo Couñago to the striker’s former Ipswich Town teammate Shefki Kuqi, coach of Honka.

Riveiro became Kuqi’s assistant in 2014 and while the club survived relegation from the Finnish top flight, financial troubles saw the coaching staff move to second-tier Pallokerho-35, who they got promoted to the Veikkausliiga.

Lack of financial resources saw PK-35 struggle in the top-tier. Riveiro moved to HJK to assist Lehkosuo in 2016, and the pair won two league titles together.

Riveiro took the head coaching job at Turku in 2019. He told internet channel Panorama Football of his departure in December 2021: “I don't think as a coach you have to spend more than three years in the same place.

“That's the maximum for me — with exceptions of course, depending on the club philosophy and how much you refresh the squad year after year, and how ambitious that club is to make every year different from before.

“In this case, it's around that three years and time for me to look for a different challenge, and for the [Turku] players to have a new face, and for the fans also.

“I think it's good. It's not good to feel comfortable somewhere, where no-one's critical with me, I'm getting good results. You have to move the chair regularly. It's the way to improve the clubs, the coaches and the players.”

Riveiro’s story reveals he is not the inexperienced hack many Bucs fans feared on his announcement. Still, coaching a small team in Finland and ending in a respectable position, compared to a giant in SA where trophies are at a premium, are two markedly different undertakings.

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