It was clear to me from the moment Harte put the ball in. I had an intuition that the ball was going to come to me and that I was going to score. I don’t know why or how but I knew…. These are the words of a star, of a striker who won over the fans from the moment he arrived at the Orriols club. This is Riga’s own account of the moment before the goal he scored at the Camp d’Esportsde Lleida on 17 June 2006, enabling Levante UD to win 0-1 and return to the elite. That match will remain indelible in the azulgrana imagination. Not only because of the success achieved, but also because it was probably the biggest ever for the club in its history. More than five thousand Levante fans were on hand to celebrate the return of Valencia’s oldest club to the First Division, which should never have been abandoned the previous season.

Riga after scoring in Lleida, with his eyes lost, dedicating his goal to someone while his teammates Alexis and Nagore congratulate him effusively.

Rahamat Riga Mustapha was born in Accra, Ghana, but at the age of six he left his native country to emigrate with his family to the Dutch city of Amsterdam. He settled there, where he also acquired the nationality of the European country. He soon began to excel in football. In fact, at the age of 19, he was part of the Netherlands team that reached the quarter-finals of the U-20 World Championship in Argentina in 2001. Nicknamed the Bullet (because of his speed and the speed of his final pass in his position as a striker), he started his professional career in several Dutch teams. After playing for Vitesse, Roosendaal and Sparta Rotterdam in the summer of 2005, he decided to move to a Spanish team that wanted him for a very clear objective: to return to the First Division with Levante UD from Valencia. And he took up the challenge with astonishing confidence. On the day of his presentation, he guaranteed promotion, and he delivered what he promised.

The Ghanaian (naturalised Dutch) Riga signed for Levante UD in the 2005/06 season with a very clear objective: promotion to the First Division. On the left in the VIP box at the Ciutat de València and on the right celebrating one of his goals that season with teammates Manchev and Ettien.

The 2004/05 season had been an unhappy memory for the Levantinistas. After the legendary promotion from Jerez in 2004 (after a journey of almost forty years outside the elite) the Granotes started that season in magnificent fashion, becoming the surprise package. On matchday,the team from Orriols side were third and in the Champions League places with the same points as Real Madrid, who were second behind Barça. But inexplicably things went wrong and, against all odds, the Levante team coached by the German Bernhard Schuster slumped to seventeenth place on matchday thirty-four, with relegation just four points behind. The German was sacked (after losing his last three games) and new coach José Luis Oltra not only failed to maintain that gap, but after suffering two away defeats (against Albacete and Villarreal) and two draws at the Ciutat (against Barça and Valencia) could not avoid relegation to the second division. The disappointment at the club presided over by Pedro Villarroel was huge.

Bernd Schuster coached Levante UD in 2004/05. After a spectacular start, the team collapsed in the second half of the season and was relegated to the second division. On the left, the German in the press room of the Ciutat de València and on the right in the Ciudad Deportiva de Buñol.

Automatically, there was a sudden reset. The unfortunate accident had to be rectified as soon as possible. And there was only one horizon in sight: in June 2006, we had to be back in the first division. The team structure remained almost intact: Harte, Ettien, Cavallero, Descarga, Alexis, Manchev, Reggi, Congo, Jesule, Culebras… All of them continued because there was confidence that with those same players and some new ones (Courtois, N’Diaye or Carmelo arrived) it was enough. José Luis Oltra (with Fernando Giner as assistant coach) remained at the helm. And the great reinforcement of that season was the striker Mustapha Riga (or Riga Mustapha, as people called him in both ways), in whom everyone placed the highest hopes as top scorer.

The start of the tournament was spectacular. The first three games were won and the Ghanaian soon proved his worth. On matchday two he scored his first goal in a 1-2 win over Racing Ferrol and the following matchday he scored the winner in a 1-0 win over Elche. Levante were level on points with unexpected leaders Ciudad de Murcia, whom they trailed in the standings. But, surprisingly, from then on, a disastrous run of form began. In the next seven games they only beat Real Madrid Castilla, drew with Murcia, Albacete and Málaga B and lost to Nàstic de Tarragona, Recreativo de Huelva and, in a lamentable manner, Almería, who gave the Granotes a painful one-sided defeat. The objective of the campaign was in danger and the most convenient option was chosen: Oltra was relieved by the Basque coach José Manuel Esnal “Mané”, who brought in Ángel Garitano as second in command. The Balmaseda native thus began his second spell at Orriols, having coached Levante UD (also in Segunda) in the 1996/97 season, leaving them in an acceptable ninth place.

After the 5-1 drubbing in Almería (in the photo above Carmelo with local player Bermudo) on matchday 10, Levante hit rock bottom. The team was eleventh and José Luis Oltra was sacked as coach. His replacement was Mané (bottom left), an old acquaintance, who brought in Ángel Garitano (right).

And the improvement was immediate. From the eleventh to the twenty-seventh matchday, Levante won eight times, drew seven times and only lost (consecutively) against Xerez and Hércules. And Riga, as soon as Mané arrived, put together his best scoring run of the season. He scored five goals in his first four games under Mané: in the 3-2 win over Castellón, he scored the winner in the 0-1 win over Numancia, he also scored in the 2-3 home defeat against Xerez and he scored his first brace as a Granota in the fantastic 6-0 win over Ciudad de Murcia.

Riga scored his first double as a Levante player in the 6-0 win over Ciudad de Murcia. Above during the match

After this good dynamic, Levante were fourth with 46 points, the same as Lorca, who were third, and Nàstic, fifth. The top two places were occupied by Xerez and Recreativo de Huelva, with 48 points, five teams for three promotion places. There was maximum equality and there were still fifteen rounds left to play. It was clear that they were going to suffer until the end to achieve their objective. However, Xerez went into crisis and was ousted as a candidate by an extraordinary Ciudad de Murcia.

Recreativo and Nàstic were the first to achieve mathematical promotion with two games to go. The remaining place was to be fought for by the other three. Levante were the only team that depended on themselves, but they could not fail in those last two games. They went into the final matchday two points ahead of Ciudad de Murcia and three ahead of Lorca. A draw was enough for the granotes. But to avoid surprises, the best thing to do was to go out and win the decisive match that was to be played in the city of Segre against Lleida, who had nothing at stake. And fortunately that was the case. Backed by the support of more than five thousand Levante fans who travelled to the Catalan capital, the victory was achieved without too much suffering. Just before half-time a great cross from Irishman Harte (following a free-kick from the right side of the Granota attack) was finished off by Riga to score the winning goal and go down in Levante UD history as the scorer of Lleida’s 2006 promotion goal to the First Division.

The trip to Lleida was the biggest in history. The “Granota Train” chartered for the occasion carried most of the Levante supporters. On the left, a Patanegra fan and on the right, Riga disputing a ball with local defender Dani Marín.

On the left Harte and Riga, the protagonists of the decisive goal that day in Lleida. On the right, the Ghanaian after scoring, with captain Descarga on his back and the granotes Congo, Reggi and Jesule celebrating at the back of the picture.

In Valencia, the celebrations of Lleida’s promotion began, as usual, at the Fountain of the Four Seasons on Paseo de la Alameda. In the picture, an amused Riga playing with relish a bass drum that he had bought, while the very happy fans cheered him on behind his back.

With the Orriols side back in the elite, the club decided not to give continuity to Mané and hired the Sevillian Juan Ramón López Caro, who had coached the Santiago Bernabéu side (with whom he had been runner-up) the previous season, as the new coach. And although the league opened with two heavy defeats (against Sevilla and Real Madrid, conceding four goals in each), the following two wins (also consecutive) against Recreativo de Huelva and Deportivo de La Coruña seemed to put the situation back on track. But nothing could have been further from the truth. In the following fourteen games, only two more were won, six were drawn and six were lost. A resounding 3-0 defeat in the derby against Valencia led to his dismissal. It was the eighteenth matchday of the championship and the team was fourth from bottom, just one point from relegation. Abel Resino was chosen to turn the situation around.

Andalusian coach Juan Ramón López Caro was unlucky during his time at Levante UD in the 2006/07 campaign and was sacked before the end of the first half of the season. Under him, Riga only scored two of the nine goals he managed that season. They were of little use, however, as they came in away defeats against Betis and Nàstic Tarragona. On the right disputing a ball with former Levante player Rivera on the day he scored at the Benito Villamarín.

However, the change of coach did not seem to change the situation. On the contrary, it got worse. The first two games under the former Toledo goalkeeper’s guidance were played at the Ciutat de València and ended in a goalless draw against Athletic Club and a painful 2-4 defeat against Sevilla. After losing to the Andalusians, the team slipped into the relegation places and salvation was just two points away. And the worst thing: the following matchday they had to travel to the Spanish capital to face the all-powerful Real Madrid. However, against all odds, that game at the Chamartín stadium proved to be the best of the revivals. After a spectacular 0-1 win (Salva Ballesta’s goal, after a penalty by Madrid’s Diarra on the great Italian midfielder Tommasi), the Orriols side went on a positive run (with a win and two more draws) that took them out of the relegation zone.

On 4 February 2007, Levante UD won a historic 0-1 victory against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu. On the left Riga disputing a ball with defender Iván Helguera. That good run continued with another victory the following matchday with a 2-1 win at the Ciutat de València against Recreativo de Huelva. In the picture on the right Salva Ballesta celebrating one of the goals that day (he scored both) while Diego Camacho and Riga approach to congratulate him.

But until the end of that season, the team continued to suffer and the team was always on the edge of the most critical part of the table. On matchday 30, after losing 1-0 to Atlético de Madrid, Levante returned to the penultimate position and, although they drew 1-1 in the subsequent match against Getafe (with a goal from the Ghanaian), they were still in the relegation zone to the Second Division for one more match. From which they emerged (and never re-entered) in the following match, despite losing by the minimum against Barça in Barcelona. In the following four games, the Granotes sealed their relegation after winning three (against Nàstic, Celta and Racing and losing only to Osasuna). And in those victories, Riga’s performance was decisive. He scored in all three games and also scored a brace in the victory in Santander.

Riga celebrating two goals at the Ciutat in the final stretch of the second half of the 2006/07 campaign. On the left celebrating with the fans (after taking off his shirt) after scoring in the 1-1 draw against Getafe (with teammates Álvaro and Kapo coming over to congratulate him). Right after scoring one of the two goals in the decisive 2-0 win over Nàstic Tarragona (here it is Courtois and Tommasi celebrating with the Ghanaian).

And although they did not reach the penultimate matchday with mathematical salvation (as they were level with Celta, who were relegated by six points), only an absolutely catastrophic debacle could relegate Levante to the Second Division. To do so, the Granotes had to lose their last two games, the Galicians had to win them and, in addition, erase the five-goal advantage that the team from Orriols had over the Vigo side.

So relegation was already a certainty going into the final game of the season at the Ciutat de València. So the home side played without pressure and very motivated because, in addition, it was the derby, the match of the year for the granota fans. And things could not have got off to a better start. Soon after the ball was kicked, Valencia were penalised for offside by Angulo in the vicinity of the blue and white area. The goalkeeper Molina played a long ball, Salva Ballesta headed the ball towards Riga, who arrived on the run and, inside the Valencia area, subtly touched the ball past Cañizares to send the fans wild.

Riga just after opening the scoring in the second minute of the match on 9 June 2007 in which Levante UD beat Valencia CF 4-2.

And almost without a break Levante put the game well and truly back on track. Curro Torres gave a defective ball to his goalkeeper, Salva Ballesta was ahead of the action and Cañizares had no choice but to bring him down to prevent him from scoring at will. Penalty and sending off of the goalkeeper. The French goalkeeper Butelle (replacing Torres himself) went on to defend the Valencianista goal and almost saved the penalty taken by the Zaragoza striker. The Frenchman cleared, the ball hit the post and Salva Ballesta took advantage of the rebound to make amends for his mistake and score the second goal. Only eight minutes had passed since the game and the fans were in disbelief. Paradise on earth had arrived at the Ciutat.

Image taken by Ramón Victoria (from the Ciutat de València box) of that mythical 4-2 victory by Levante against Valencia.

Quique Sánchez Flores’ team seemed blocked, without the capacity to react. However, an action in the 15th minute seemed to redirect the situation. After a run down the left flank, David Villa crossed for Joaquín to fire into the back of the net. Even so, the feeling remained that the game belonged to the Granstas. Levante had come out to bite, to go all out, to play a derby as it should be played. And the Valencianistas gave the impression of being overwhelmed, of not knowing what to do. The second half started with the same sensations although, in the first minute, Kapo (who was shown a second yellow card and sent off after an incomprehensible foul on Ayala) left both teams with ten men on the pitch. But in the 49th minute,Riga put things right again. A cross from Rubiales on the left was headed back in by Salva Ballesta, leaving the ball at the Ghanaian’s feet (as in the opening goal) and he beat Valencia with a shot that could not be beaten by the goalkeeper.

Riga scoring Levante’s third goal of the match (and his third double as a Granota player), beating captain Albelda and beating Butelle with a low shot.

With the score at 3-1 and the same number of players in each team, the Valencianistas did not know how to act with the necessary tranquility to turn the tables. On the contrary, shortly after conceding the third, the Argentine Ayala made a chilling tackle on the Granota center back Serrano that earned him a straight red card. And just four minutes later, a spectacular run down the right flank by Ettien was stopped by Marchena. The Sevillian received a second yellow card and was also sent off. In addition to the undisputed superiority of Levante UD throughout the match, there was now the tremendous advantage of having two more players on the pitch. In the 74th minute, after a cross from Berson on the left (and a blunder by Albelda in the clearance), the Frenchman Courtois finished off the scoring by adding the fourth goal to the scoreboard. Valencia were groggy and Mustapha Riga almost knocked them out for good. A great shot from the Ghanaian was brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Butelle. Had he scored, he would have gone down in history as the only Levante player to score a hat trick in a derby. And from the hypothetical fifth Levante goal, the Valencianistas were able to make up the result with a goal by Baraja on a counterattack with only three minutes left in the game. The Ghanaian’s performance that day was memorable, leaving six shots on target and an unforgettable brace.

The local press of June 10, 2007 (on the left the front page of the newspaper “Superdeporte” and on the right the front page of “El Levante – EMV”) made it very clear whose derby it was.

After the good taste left by that historic derby, the club faced the 2007/08 season with the intention of achieving the goal of permanence as soon as possible and continued to count on Abel Resino in the technical direction. The starting eleven maintained the backbone of the previous season, with the arrival of interesting reinforcements: the Italians Storari (goalkeeper) and Riganò (striker), the midfielders Pedro León and Javi Fuego, the attacker Geijo and the midfielder Miguel Ángel, who returned to Levante after six seasons in the First Division defending the colors of Málaga (with whom he won the Interto) and Betis.

However, the first quarter of that campaign was dreadful. In the first ten matches, the team scored only one point. The change of coach in the seventh did not seem to change things. The Italian Gianni De Biasi conceded three defeats (with no goals scored and six conceded) in his first three games as the new Granota coach. And at that point salvation was already seven points away. A burden that in the end would be insurmountable.

And in that fateful season Riga was probably the most outstanding player. He maintained his goal-scoring level of the previous season and was once again the team’s top scorer, just as he had been in his first season, the 2006 promotion campaign in Lleida. In the three years he played for Levante UD he was the top scorer with 11, 9 and 8 goals per season. A legacy that has made him pass, without any doubt, to the Olympus of the greatest strikers in the history of the dean club of Valencian soccer.

The 2007/08 season brought Riga very few joys, although the biggest was undoubtedly the 4-3 win over Betis. In that match the Ghanaian scored his fourth and last brace as a Granota player (on the left celebrating one of his goals that day). On the right disputing a ball with Sergio Sánchez in Levante 1 Racing de Santander 1

Riga in action in the two matches that Atlético de Madrid and Real Madrid played that season at the Ciutat. On the left with Colombian Perea and on the right with Brazilian Marcelo.