Former Liverpool player John Arne Riise was in London on the eve of the Club’s sellout clash with Barcelona at Wembley to talk about his distinguished seven years with one of the worlds greatest football sides.
The event was held in association with 5 Times – Official Liverpool Legends. Fans were able to meet the Norwegian, who played 348 games in the red of Liverpool – scoring 31 goals and earning 110 caps for his country. Riise was signed by Gerard Houllier in the summer of 2001 and during his career at Anfield he became a fan favourite because of some of his phenomenal goals in big matches.
The former Reds star won the Charity Shield and the European Super Cup in his first month playing for the club in 2001 and won them again in 2006 and 2005. He also won both the domestic English cups – the League Cup in 2003 and the FA Cup in 2006 – and of course was part of that famous night in 2005, the year he was in the Rafa Benitez side that won the Champions League in Istanbul against all odds. Riise left Anfield in 2008, moving to Italy for a spell at Roma before a return to the Premier League with Fulham in 2011. He eventually ended his career back where it started, at Norwegian side Aalesund.
During a hilarious tongue in cheek interview Riise was quizzed by Peter MacDowall of LFCTV, who started his introduction; “Tonight is a night for big kids, where we reminisce and talk about the career of John Arne Riise and the truth behind that dark night in Portugal and that golf club.” Speaking about the Barcelona game at Wembley on Saturday, Riise said, “I’m very excited to see my favourite club. It’s a special game for me. Not many have scored the winner at the Camp Nou. It was my right foot too.”
Riise went on to speak about retirement. “I came back to Norway to look after my little brother and had a vision of what I wanted to do. After being at the top level, if you don’t have the motivation and passion and do that extra bit it’s not right. That’s not who I am. I haven’t retired. I just need a break to try and find my motivation to do my best on the pitch, in the gym, and now I’m getting that itch again.
“I want to be a coach and manager in the future and that’s no secret. I’ve been lucky to play for some of the best managers in the world. I would love to help young kids with some advice and guidance and help them progress to hopefully become top players. I’m 35 but in my head I’m still 18.”
John Arne Riise’s top 6 players
• Pepe Reina • Jamie Carragher • Sami Hyypiä •
• Steven Gerrard • Xabi Alonso • Francesco Totti •
MacDowall drew the conversation to that spectacular free kick against Manchester United at Anfield in 2001. “When I hit it I knew it was a goal – after all, I’d scored a few against Barthez at Monaco.” The crowd roared their approval.
Riise is excited about the Klopp era. “He’s the type of manager Liverpool as a club needed. I think he’s a tough manager who makes tough decisions for the best of the club. Certain players are leaving. You will need to work very hard to be in his plans. I think he will need to have time to make an impact.”
Ninety per cent of fans who took to Twitter asked about the golf club incident with Craig Bellamy. Riise described the night in detail. “I’m one person, Bellamy is different, he can be loud, angry, happy. Before the Barcelona game we went for dinner and we had a good time. It was a Karaoke restaurant. All day Bellamy had been shouting, ‘Riise is gonna sing, Riise is gonna sing.’
“At the restaurant he took the microphone and said ‘Riise is gonna sing Karaoke.’ I told him a few harsh words. We went back. I went to bed. I later heard the keys and thought Agger is back but then the light came on and then I see a guy with a golf club and he went for my shins. I jumped out of bed and he missed. I thought if he does it again I’d grab the duvet, put it over him and do my thing. All the time I was thinking of my Liverpool career because we’d both be done. I kept my cool but was worried.
“We went to breakfast and we went to train and I accepted the laughing and joking. I’m proud I kept my cool in that position and it probably saved my Liverpool career. I didn’t enjoy his celebration in the Camp Nou but he’s a team player and did give me an assist. I don’t think I’ll ever marry him.”
Before joining the Reds Riise was seconds from signing for Fulham and he spoke about what was a big moment in his career. “I was playing at Monaco. Jean Tigana had taken over at Fulham and he had bought me to Monaco. I was in his holiday home. I was five seconds from signing and my agent took a call. He took me aside and told me about Liverpool wanting to sign me. Some things are meant to be. I told him to tell Tigana. I have no idea if he was upset as I was safely in the car by then.
“I didn’t know how big Liverpool were at that point. I’m a small guy, red head, freckles and in Norway it’s all Liverpool and another club. I soon found out. Houllier took me aside in the middle of the Kop when I signed and I realised just how big. I was 21 and knew they had won the treble and I felt so small.
“Carra and Stevie smashed all the new signings. On my first day we had a run test of 45 minutes. It was a 1k track and I shot off. I heard them say they’d catch me in a bit. They never did.
“I wanted to get into the first team and play. Markus Babbel was left back, Carra at right back and unfortunately Markus fell ill and couldn’t make a return. I got my start and scoring against Bayern on my debut, and then Everton, and then another against Manchester United really helped me win the fans over.
“Rafa (Benitez) was brilliant at tactics and especially beating European teams. It was tough but I wouldn’t change it for the world. He gave me my best moment. He is open and so honest. When I left the club I couldn’t be angry because he was so open. I asked him if I could finish off with two games to reach 350. He said ‘No!’ I asked if I could play five minutes both games. He said ‘No!’ I phoned my agent who said it was time for a new challenge. I said goodbye and sat in the car and cried for 20 minutes. Almost eight fantastic years and memories had come to an end.”
John Arne Riise:
“Gerrard had everything — Totti was wow.”
A conversation with a Liverpool Champions League winner is not complete without talking about that night in Istanbul. Riise grins. “They did not have Djimi Traore! Before the game you know you will win as long as you do the work. We had in mind counter attacks, but Milan did the reverse to us in the first half.
“Benitez could change things. You could be in the team and then you’d be out because he’d probably dreamt something the night before. At the end of the day with him it’s all about winning. Rafa was calm. He was always calm. There was no point being angry. He changed to 3-5-2. Djimi had been sent to the showers. Finnan became injured and Traore was taken back out of the showers. Djimi didn’t say much, he’s quiet. You’re in the shower shampooing and then told you’re coming back on to play another 45 minutes. He’s mentally tough. I think he had a brilliant second half.
“Milan were one of the best defensive teams in the world at that moment. We didn’t want to lose six or seven nil, but we had Didi saving energy and running in circles. And then we had six incredible minutes.
“I never get cramp but at the end of that second half I had cramp in my calf, hamstrings and groin. Then extra time. Great! More cramp. Dida went the same way with the two penalties before. I was so scared I’d get cramp and decided to place it. I’m annoyed I missed because it was my time, but we won it so who cares?”
The event ended with a rendition of the Liverpool anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone.
Hans Sok Apaddu of LFC London said, “It’s been a great night for Liverpool fans and John Arne Riise has delivered. Listening to him tonight it’s clear why he has such a special place in the hearts of all Reds. We are looking ahead to what we hope will be a memorable season ahead.”
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