THE BLOG BY CPD FOOTBALL | The World of Indian football and beyond by Chris Punnakkattu Daniel

Pune release Fabiani to sign former Bolton Wanderers player Mustapha Riga

Pune FC sign former Bolton Wanderers player Mustapha Riga

Pune FC sign former Bolton Wanderers player Mustapha Riga

Pune FC have confirmed the signing of Ghanian-born former Dutch Under-21 international and Bolton Wanderers attacker Rahamat Riga Mustapha, commonly known as Mustapha Riga, for the remainder of the season.

Thirty-two-year-old Mustapha Riga joins Pune FC after the club released injured striker Raúl Fabiani.

The Spanish-born Equato-Guinean’s pre-mature end to a successful beginning at Pune FC came after he suffered an adductor tear during an I-League Round-5 home game against Mohun Bagan. The injury put Raúl out for a minimum of four months.

With the I-League taking a break from January to March, Raúl would miss more than half the season and hence the player and Pune FC agreed to part ways.

Raúl and Pune FC reached a mutual settlement on Friday and the striker would be heading back to Spain to continue with his rehabilitation.

Chirag Tanna, Pune FC Head Operations said, “We wish Raúl a speedy recovery and wish him luck for his future endeavours.”

New signing Riga brings along the experience of playing top-flight football in the Dutch, Spanish and English leagues and joins fellow foreigners James Meyer, Douhou Pierre and Calum Angus in the squad.

Riga started his professional career in the Netherlands in 1998. He joined Dutch Eredivisie side Vitesse Arnhem as a 17-year-old, plying his trade in the youth sides of the Arnhem-based club for five years. It was this period during which he worked under current Pune FC Coach Mike Snoei in Vitesse’s youth teams.

He also had a loan stint at fellow top-division side RBC Roosendaal (2000–01) in a bid to gain more experience.

Subsequently, he joined Dutch second-division side Sparta Rotterdam in 2003 in search of regular football. At Sparta, Riga once again played under Snoei who gave his talent the opportunity to blossom.

Riga responded to Snoei’s faith and scored 26 goals in two seasons. In the 2004-05 season, he notched up a staggering 22-goal tally that helped Sparta in promotion to the Eredivisie.

His performances at Sparta caught the eye of Spanish side Levante UD who signed him in 2005. Riga was once again instrumental in helping his team in promotion to the top-flight. Eleven goals 38 matches helped the Valencia side return to the top flight, after a one-year absence.

Riga continued to lead Levante’s attack in the La Liga (top-flight). He finished as the club’s top scorer in two seasons (2006-07, 2007-08) scoring 9 and 8 goals (equal to Ronaldinho and Higuain) respectively; netting against European giants Frank Rijkaard’s FC Barcelona at Camp Nou and Valencia CF among others.

During his time in Spain, he developed the name “The Bullet”, due to his electric pace and was the topscorer for Levante, although the club finished bottom of the table, Riga again scored almost a quarter of the team’s goals in the season.

Financial problems at Levante forced Riga to move on. With offers from Spanish sides Racing Santander, Real Mallorca and Greek side Olympiakos on the table, Riga decided to move to English Premier League side Bolton Wanderers in 2008 under Gary Megson. Riga’s move revolved around “replacing Senegalese striker El Hadji Diouf.”

Riga quickly settled in at Bolton making 17 appearances in his first season (2008-2009), including a start in a 2-0 win against Mark Hughes’ Man City, mostly as a substitute employed on the wing. Back then Bolton, avoided relegation and finished mid-table.

In the following season (2009-10), Riga made only 3 appearances (1 League v Liverpool and 2 Cup) throughout the season.

After two and a half seasons at Bolton, a change in management saw him leave Bolton mutually in January 2011.

Riga thereafter signed a deal with the Spanish Segunda División outfit FC Cartagena in March 2011 for whom he last played.

The Dutch National of Ghanian decent after agreeing terms with Pune FC jetted down to the city and had his first practice session with the team at Balewadi on Saturday.

Pune FC, now, awaits Riga’s ITC which will make him eligible to be fielded.