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Blaise of glory: Meet Raith Rovers’ Spanish-speaking, tough-tackling English midfielder who learned from La Liga stars

Riley-Snow in action against Hibs
Riley-Snow in action against Hibs

The career of Blaise Riley-Snow was almost over before it started. That was the case for plenty of his peers.

Being released by as a schoolboy by Brentford stung. Being released by Barnet as a teenager was devastating.

The 6ft2ins midfielder spiralled, ‘losing his head’ even as he turned out for Harefield Town in the English non-leagues.

It is a regrettably familiar tale up and down the land. Safety nets for young footballers who don’t quite make the grade are few and far between.

Riley-Snow shining in Spain

“I was a lot more sensitive when I was younger,” the Raith Rovers man told Courier Sport.

“I was at Brentford for six years and when I got released, that hurt a bit. Then when I didn’t get a deal at Barnet, that really hurt me.

“I lost my head; I took my eye off football a tiny bit.

“So many players don’t come back from that. I have a lot of friends — really talented boys — who don’t play football any more. They won’t kick a football.

“That’s surprising but just shows how cruel football can be. You need to have the right attitude to persevere and carry on. And it’s not easy sometimes.”

Spanish salvation

Riley-Snow found redemption in Alicante.

He was afforded the opportunity to train in Spain courtesy of a friend’s uncle, who happens to be an agent — before a couple of fine showings in training caught the eye of another intermediary in the Valencia region.

Two-and-a-half years in the Spanish fifth tier followed with Universidad Alicante and Alicante City.

“Going to Spain, playing consistently and enjoying the game again changed my life,” he continued. “A few of us were in the same boat from Barnet — we had all lost our way.

“We got the opportunity to go out to Spain for a week. It was a chance to train and show what we could do and, from there, I was given a platform to play. The teams gave me accommodation and I learned to love football again.

Riley-Snow in action in Spain

“It was a bit of a risk to go over there but, at the same time — sun; a tourist city; nice food. What was the worst that could happen?”

While Scottish fans are rather unfamiliar with the regional divisions of the Valencian football structure, Riley-Snow is quick to extol the virtues: feisty local derbies, technically proficient games and the chance to learn from experienced pros in the Autumn of their career.

A special mention, however, is reserved for ex-La Liga midfielder David de la Hera, a coach at Alicante City FC and former Eibar, Llieda and Hercules star.

“David was a huge influence in my career over there,” continued Riley-Snow. “He sent me on trial to a couple of teams in Spain and really made a point of looking after me.

“He gave me individual sessions, worked on my game and helped guide me.”

Inspiration: De La Hera

Those lessons were put to good use during a trial period with Raith Rovers over the close-season as Riley-Snow combined his English lower league dig and physicality with Spanish technique and awareness of space.

He added: “I’m an adult now. I’ve grown up as a player and a person, and I am a lot more resilient now — and that will never leave me.”

Massages and messages

Riley-Snow, who made his competitive debut against Livingston on Wednesday evening, has described the Rovers dressing room as ‘like a family’, such is the relish with which he has been welcomed.

And he has even been able to keep his Spanish sharp by chatting away to Raith’s Argentinean masseuse, Fernando, in his mother tongue during a rub-down on Thursday.

In short, he already feels right at home and, ahead of Saturday’s Premier Sports Cup clash with Alloa, says he fully intends to stick around longer than the January expiry of his deal.

After all, Riley-Snow has a promotion to win.

Riley-Snow in action in pre-season

“I was only here on trial for a week so it makes sense why I was only offered a six-month contract,” he continued. “However, I believe six months is more than enough time to show what I can do and get that extended.

“I want to spend the season here — at the very least — and try to win promotion to the Premiership with Raith.

From what I have seen in training, and the match against a Premiership team in Livingston, I think that’s a realistic goal.”

John McGlynn delivers verdict on Raith Rovers debutants following Livingston stalemate