Leyton Orient are a club in decline and their 112-year stay in the Football League came to an end following a 3-0 defeat at Crewe Alexandra back in April. They will now compete in the non-league pyramid for the first time since 1905.
With the O’s sitting bottom of League Two and looking like certainties to face the drop, Danny Webb resigned as manager and Omer Riza was promoted from his role as assistant.
Some would question why he decided to take the job with so many uncertainties looming over the club, but he insists the challenges faced have made him “stronger” and better equipped moving forward.
He said: “This season has been one of the toughest I have had to endure over the course of my career, both as a player and as a manager. I have been tested in every way possible, but that has made me stronger and tougher than I was previously.”
With relegation now confirmed and off-field issues still dominating the headlines, it is undoubtedly an anxious period for supporters of the club. Speaking about the drop to the Conference Riza knew it was inevitable, but he is proud of the team’s efforts.
He said: “Relegation was always going to be tough to avoid with only seven games remaining when I took over, but we definitely gave it a go.
“The performances in most matches has been good, it’s just killer mistakes that have cast a shadow over everything. It was gutting when we were confirmed as down. Regardless of whether you know it’s going to happen, when it does it hurts.”
With his own personal future at the club yet to be decided, Riza insists that he must keep planning ahead as if his position is permanent. In what will be a pivotal summer period for Leyton Orient the focus remains and work will be put in to ensure matters improve.
He said: “I have always said from the start that I would act professionally. I am here to keep the club moving forward and I believe that has happened on the pitch.
“Planning and preparation is important and I am doing that as if I had a long contract here, we work together every day to ensure we are improving as a team.
“Recent performances have showed a certain amount of promise and understanding. I will continue to put things in place and work as usual until told otherwise.”
Issues with wages did arise at one stage this season, but they have now been resolved. With regards to how he dealt with that, Riza believes he handled it in the correct manner and kept the players and staff focused.
He said: “Motivating people has been difficult and dealing with various attitudes and behaviours proved tough. However, I feel like I handled it well and I am glad everything is now back to normal.”
Utilising young players and selecting youthful squads has been something Riza has done during his reign thus far. Some would think that their treatment would differ from that of senior players, but the manager insists that is not the case.
He said: “I try to treat everybody the same, but the younger players are still learning, so for me it is paramount that they show signs of development and a real willingness to learn.
“If they stop doing that they will have a problem as I want to push them to be the best that they can be. Encouraging senior players to lead them down the right track is important and I expect everyone to behave in a professional manner.
“Respect and attitude is everything. If they show me respect they get the same back in abundance; if they don’t, I won’t waste my time or effort on them.”
Slotting Sandro Semedo into central midfield during the recent 3-1 defeat at home to Colchester United proved a wise decision with the youngster finding the net. That trust in his players is dubbed as “vital” by Riza and he was impressed by the Portuguese midfielder.
He said: “Sandro is a very good player who has featured too heavily throughout this campaign. He boasts some brilliant qualities, hence why he is capable of playing in a variety of positions.
“I always felt like he could play in the middle even before I was in charge so I had the perfect opportunity to put him there and he was outstanding. It was good to be proved right.
“The more options he has in wider positions, the better he plays. His passing range is excellent and the direct nature of his play can help drive the team forward.”
Over the next few months, Riza and the club will have to reshape and prepare for the 2017/18 season. Whilst Orient will be searching to return to the Football League as swiftly as possible, the manager does not want to get carried away. However, he admits targets will be set.
He said: “It won’t be an easy task to get out of the division and win promotion, but we will endeavour to be the best we can be. If we set goals you will achieve what you need to, but preparation and recruitment are fundamental things we have to get right.
“Everyone connected with the club needs to pull together in the same direction. It is crucial that things move in a positive direction and that will be extremely difficult if people are pulling in different directions.”
With his potential position as manager on a long term basis yet to be set in stone, Riza has this message for supporters at Brisbane Road:
“I have absolutely loved every minute of my tenure at Leyton Orient. There has been and there will still be challenging hurdles to overcome, but as I have said before, we all want the same thing for this great football club.
“Our supporters can make that happen and without them by our side, things get much harder. Togetherness is what is needed and myself or whoever is managing next season will work tirelessly to change our fortunes.”
You can follow Omer Riza on Twitter @Oriza8Riza and you can also find me @M_Roper96.