The year 2004 marked the forty-first anniversary of Levante UD’s last promotion to the First Division and thirty-nine years without playing in the top flight. Those two seasons in the sixties in which the Granotes had lived alongside Real Madrid, Barça and the rest of the Spanish footballing paradise were so diluted in time that returning to the top flight seemed impossible rather than a chimera. Moreover, those two years had been the only two in the history of the Valencian football club in the elite of Spanish football. So the promotion to the First Division that took place at the Estadio Municipal de Chapín in Jerez on Saturday 5 June 2004 meant absolute ecstasy for the Levantines.

Manolo Preciado and Alberto Rivera: The two heroes of Jerez’s 2004 promotion to the First Division

Alberto Rivera Pizarro, a native of Puertollano (Ciudad Real), was a talented footballer who, at a very young age, joined the squad of the all-powerful Real Madrid. Surprisingly, at the age of 16, he joined the first team squad. And at the age of 17 years, three months and 20 days, he set a record that still stands today at the Chamartín club: on 10 June 1995, under the orders of Jorge Valdano, he made his debut in the First Division in a 2-0 win over Celta Vigo, scoring the second goal of the match. Never in the history of Real Madrid has a player made his debut and scored so young in the First Division. However, that promising start was not followed up and Rivera returned to the youth ranks until the 2000/01 season when he returned to the elite, playing in the Champions League in a match in which Spartak Moscow beat Real Madrid 1-0. But Rivera did not count in this case for coach Del Bosque and in the following season he was loaned to Olympique Marseille where he did not have an outstanding performance. Finally, in 2002/03 he got the chance to play for Levante UD de València.

Rivera in the 2000/01 season with Real Madrid, when he played in the Champions League.

When he arrived at Orriols, he found an ambitious club with one goal in mind: to return to the First Division. To achieve this, a great team was put together, coached by Carlos García Cantarero, and which was to revolve around the signing of a media star: the great footballer Pedja Mijatovic. Rivera, the undisputed starter in the midfield, became the Montenegrin’s team-mate. The team was fighting all season for the first three places for promotion, but the 30th matchday was the last one in which the club was in third position. From then until the end of the tournament, Levante was the owner of a frustrating fourth place. And although on matchday 37 there was a change of coach and José Gómez was brought in, it was business as usual. Certainly, Mijatovic’s performance was not what was expected and his physical problems only allowed him to play half of the matches that season, which also had an influence on the fact that the desired promotion could not be achieved.

Rivera in the first of the three seasons in which he defended the Granota crest. On the left in the squad photo with his teammates Duda and Rentería (with president Antonio Blasco on the top left and coach Cantarero next to him). On the right in a visit to a granota fan club with his teammates Mijatovic, Carpintero, Congo and Sérvulo.

So 2003/04 was to be the season of that longed-for return to the First Division. To do so, the club chose a coach who, in the end, would become a Levante legend: the immense Manolo Preciado. He was joined by two strikers: David Aganzo and the Argentinian Gustavo Reggi.

Levante spent the 2003/04 pre-season in Biescas. In the photo on the left, coach Preciado in the foreground with Rivera and Rubiales in the background.

But, without a doubt, the axis of that team revolved around the baton of Alberto Rivera, the great playmaker of that eleven, who became the perfect extension of the coach on the pitch and who, in addition, achieved his best goalscoring record of his career as a footballer. With 11 goals, he was the second highest scorer after Reggi (who scored 12) and ahead of Aganzo (who scored 9). In addition, in the Copa del Rey, the Granotes were on the verge of a big surprise. In the round of 16, the team came up against Barça and almost eliminated them. In the first leg at the Ciutat d’Orriols they won 1-0 (with a goal from Rivera), but in the second leg at the Camp Nou they won 3-1 after a more than controversial refereeing performance.

Rivera disputing a ball with Brazilian Ronaldinho on 8 January 2004, the day Levante UD beat Barça 1-0 (with Rivera’s goal) in the last 16 of the Copa del Rey.

Throughout the league tournament, the team led the competition and on match day 40 (there were still two more to go) they had their first chance to win promotion. To do so, they had to beat the local team in Jerez. And after an extraordinary match, not without suffering, as the locals took the lead well into the second half, Levante managed to turn the score around and complete the feat. After Reggi’s first goal, it was Rivera, after scoring a penalty in the 71st minute, who brought the whole Levante crowd to paroxysm.

Jerez 2004: An eleven for history. From left to right and from top to bottom: Tito, Mora, Pinillos, Alexis Suárez, Rubiales, Carpintero, Sérvulo, Rivera, Descarga, Jofre and Reggi.

Rivera in the decisive penalty in Jerez. On the left placing the ball on the spot as the home goalkeeper Unanua tries to intimidate him and on the right as he converts it, completely fooling the goalkeeper.

Rivera on the left euphoric after scoring the penalty and on the right hugging Aganzo under the happy gaze of Congo.

The celebrations of that mythical promotion in Valencia. On the left at the Fountain of the Four Seasons in Paseo de La Alameda with Alexi Suárez and Reggi and on the right with the president of the Generalitat Valenciana Francisco Camps and the president of Levante UD Pedro Villarroel.

Surprisingly, with Levante UD in the First Division, the coach who had achieved promotion was not given continuity and Preciado was replaced by the German Bern Schuster. The team was reinforced with top players such as Irish defender Harte, Bulgarian striker Manchev and Argentinian goalkeeper Cavallero. And the team had a truly spectacular first quarter of the season, reaching third place behind Barça and Real Madrid on matchday 10.

Rivera’s second jersey from his 2004/05 season in Primera División (donation by Vicente Romo)

Levante beat Atlético de Madrid 1-0 (goal by Rivera) on 22 September 2004 and drew 0-0 in the Spanish capital. On the left celebrating his goal with Manchev at the Ciutat and on the right in a shootout with Fernando Torres.

Rivera and Baraja in the two derbies between Levante UD and Valencia CF. On the left at Mestalla and on the right at the Ciutat de València.

On 17 April 2005 Levante and Real Madrid faced each other at Orriols. On the left Rivera between Owen and Ronaldo and on the right disputing a ball with Beckham.

However, the second half of the season was disastrous in sporting terms for the team, whose performance dropped dramatically. On matchday 35, José Luis Oltra became the new coach to try to reverse the situation, but the reaction was insufficient. And in the last match of the tournament, after losing 4-1 in Villarreal, the Granotes returned to the silver category.

On 29 May 2005, after losing in Villarreal, Levante UD were relegated to the Second Division. In the picture, the Uruguayan striker Forlán and Rivera in that fateful match for Levante.

And so ended Alberto Rivera’s third and final season as a Granota player. An extraordinary midfielder, with a fabulous technical quality who led an unforgettable promotion to the First Division for Levante fans.