Player Profile: John Arne Riise
Date of Birth: 24/09/1980
Position: Left Back
National Team: Norway
International Caps: 110
International Goals: 16
One particularly excitable American commentator once summed John Arne Riise’s trademark up perfectly when describing one of his bullet strikes towards goal. “RELEASE THE KRAKEN!”
Riise’s chant that reverberated on the terraces of the Kop was born from his famous free kick pile driver that whizzed past the half hearted hand of Manchester United ‘keeper Fabien Barthez. Barthez was brave under the circumstances as most would have run in the opposite direction of a missile travelling at that pace towards them. Some say that had the Anfield Road net and stand not been where they were, that ball would still be travelling 19 years later.
The Norwegian left back joined Liverpool at a time where they were firmly in the “sleeping giants of world football” category, meaning that new talent brought in had to be of the lesser known variety. That means that when the signing of John Arne Riise was announced, few heads were turned on Merseyside.
Riise began his career at little known Norwegian side Aalesund. He wasted no time in catching the attention of admirers on the continent and played only one senior season at Aalesund before being snapped up by French Ligue 1 side Monaco.
The transition from second division to top flight football wasn’t an easy one for Riise, making only seven appearances in his debut season in Ligue 1. However, his fortunes changed in the 1999-2000 campaign and he was a pivotal part of the Monaco side that claimed the Ligue 1 title that season under Jean Tigana.
Tigana left for pastures new, a desire that Riise echoed for himself to the bemusement of his French employers. No move materialised and the left back was frozen out, making only 18 appearances in all competitions. Fulham (now managed by Tigana) and Leeds showed an interest but it was Liverpool who captured the Norwegian’s signature.
His long throw, shock of ginger hair and cannonball left foot ensured that Riise had all the ingredients needed to quickly become a cult hero on Merseyside.
Riise wasn’t just any left back. In the mould of Brazilian legend Roberto Carlos, Riise frequently bombed down the left in support of the attack, bringing his frightening left foot into play as another weapon in the Liverpool attack.
His lethal left also meant he often pulled rank on set pieces, particularly on free kicks as Barthez and co found out that day in Anfield. The ball was laid off to Riise who had already wound up for a pile driver. He put the full force of that mighty left peg through the ball, resulting in a shot that topped 70 miles per hour before testing the security of the Anfield Road goal net. A roar from the Kop was followed by the revealing of Riise’s chiselled six pack, culminating in a knee slide which quickly became a trademark.
The Liverpool faithful would see the knee slide in action eight times in his first season on Merseyside, including a goal against the old blue enemy on his second league start. Not bad for a left “back”.
He became a mainstay in that Liverpool side under Gerard Houllier, making 147 appearances and scoring 14 times in three seasons. Riise even withstood the change of era at Anfield with the pragmatic style of Rafael Benitez changing the emphasis at Liverpool in 2004.
Is the goal against Manchester United Riise’s most iconic moment in his time at Anfield? Probably. But a pinpoint cross produced in May 2005 comes close.
At 3-0 down on THAT night in Istanbul, Riise ventured forward down the left before whipping in a trademark cross on to the head of Steven Gerrard to kick start the miracle. He went on to see his penalty saved by Dida in the shootout but ended the night holding club football’s biggest prize.
How do you top that? Quite simply, you don’t. Riise played the full 120 minutes 12 months later in another famous cup win, this time the FA Cup in 2006.
The Norwegian was an ever present for Liverpool for two more years, taking his number of appearances up to 348 in a spell of seven seasons, nearly bursting the net on 31 occasions.
Riise signed for Serie A outfit Roma in 2008, quickly establishing himself as a fan’s favourite in Italy largely thanks to two famous goals in separate fixtures against title chasing rival Inter Milan. His three seasons in Italy saw him make a further 135 appearances before returning to England for a short spell at Fulham.
Now a veteran, Riise’s lung busting runs down the left hand side were not quite as frequent as they had been earlier in his career. But that lethal left foot was still as effective and cries of “shoooot” continued to ring around Craven Cottage for his three season stay with the club. Contrary to his semi-prolific nature at Liverpool, Riise never scored for Fulham.
As his career wound down, Riise spent his twilight years at Cypriot outfit APOEL and then Indian side Delhi Dynamos in 2015. In a sentimental move he then returned to home club Aalesunds before a brief spell at Indian side Chennaiyin ahead of announcing his retirement.
As ever with John Arne Riise, he didn’t do his international career by halves. In an international career spanning 13 years, Riise retired as Norway’s record cap holder, turning out for his country on 110 occasions.
Riise was undoubtedly a talented footballer but one held back by the limitations of his nation’s ability. The world stage was robbed of Riise and he watched his only international tournament from the bench as Norway crashed out of EURO 2000 early.
One thing is for sure, he did all he could as an international player. He made his 100th appearance in a match against Wales in 2011 (a match in which Norway lost 4-1 incidentally).
He equalled Torbjorn Svenssen’s record of 104 appearances in 2012 before announcing his retirement on a record 110 caps, a record which still stands today.
Did you know? Interesting facts about John Arne Riise
– A statue built outside Aalesund’s stadium in 2005 bore a strong resemblance to Riise, the businessman who donated the statue denied that it was intended to commemorate him. The statue has now officially been named John Arne Riise since April 2018.
– Riise once broke Manchester United player Alan Smith’s leg with one of his shots.
– He was the sporting director of Maltese club Birkirkara but resigned from the position after three months in the role.
– Riise once appeared to storm out of an interview on Malaysian TV after the interviewer referred to him as a “Manchester United legend with a fierce right foot”. It later transpired that he was in on a practical joke being played on the presenter.