Rivera was an elegant, efficitent, and creative offensive midfield playmaker, with an eye for goal, who possessed excellent technical ability, footballing intelligence, vision, and class. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest Italian footballers, and one of the most talented playmakers of all time, due to his passing accuracy and his adeptness at providing assists. In 2004, Pelè chose Rivera as part of the FIFA 100 greatest living footballers, and he placed 35th in the UEFA Golden Jubilee Poll.
After retiring from football, Rivera went into politics and he is currently a Member of the European Parliament for the Uniti nell'Ulivo party. He has been appointed as the President of the educational youth sector by the FIGC for the Italy national football team, along with Roberto Baggio and Arrigo Sacchi under head coach Cesare Prandelli.