Norway’s John Arne Riise has enjoyed all sorts of experiences, won many titles and worked with several of Europe’s top clubs during his career – but despite having already played more than 500 matches, there is one game in particular that he will never forget.
On 25 May 2005 Liverpool and AC Milan battled it out for the UEFA Champions League crown at Istanbul’s Ataturk Stadium. Few believed the Reds could prevail when the Italians headed down the tunnel at half-time with a 3-0 lead, but what happened next went down in the annals of footballing history. It was Riise himself who provided the cross for Steven Gerrard’s first goal, and after accomplishing the seemingly impossible task of levelling the scores, the English side took the game to penalties, where Liverpool prevailed 3-2 – despite the Norwegian missing his own spot-kick.
“For me this match stands head and shoulders above all the others. The way we fought our way back into the game was incredible,” the left-sided defender told FIFA.com in an interview, gladly recalling the events of that legendary evening in Turkey. Riise remained at Anfield until 2008 before moving on to pastures new, making his stint on Merseyside the longest of his career. He spent three years at most of his other former clubs, namely Monaco (1998-2001), Roma (2008-2011) and Fulham (2011-2014).
Ready for new adventures
“I like to try out new things and get to know different cultures,” said Riise in explanation of his restlessness, before recounting how he ended up at his current club in Cyprus. “I was out of contract in the summer of 2014 and when APOEL enquired about me, I accepted. I’m very happy here and enjoying it.” Although his stint in Nicosia got off to a difficult start, “since then I’ve been 100 per cent and ready to help the team,” he said. “My wife’s happy here too, so I can’t complain.”
Although it remains to be seen whether the 34-year-old will maintain his three-year cycle on this occasion, John Arne Semundseth Riise – to use his full name – is keen to continue playing for at least another five years. “I want to play until I’m 40; I’m still in top physical condition,” he said. “APOEL won’t be my last club. I’ve got a one-year contract. Maybe I’ll be off to the USA or Dubai next, but at the moment I’m happy in Cyprus,” he continued. “And I definitely want to work as a coach when I eventually hang up my playing boots. I’m always open to new adventures.”
In contrast, the international chapter of Riise’s career has officially drawn to a close. He announced his retirement from his national side in 2013 after 13 years of service, and remains satisfied with his decision. “It was a difficult choice to make, of course, but I wanted to concentrate on my club career,” he explained, adding that retiring from international football has proven to be helpful. “I’m pleased to have done it and don’t regret a thing.”
The Norwegian is proud of his status as his country’s most-capped player, with 110 internationals and 16 goals to his name, and although he would rather leave the job of picking the Scandinavian nation’s best footballer of all time to someone else, there is no doubt that he would be among the prime candidates. As a full-back with exceptional stamina and a commanding physical presence, Riise often was – and remains – solid as a rock in defence.
What’s more, he possesses a fearsome left foot capable of delivering spectacular goals. Indeed, in November 2001, during his first year with Liverpool, the 20-metre free-kick he scored against Manchester United helped to earn him a lasting place in the hearts of the Reds’ fans.
Brother, room-mate and best friend
As a past winner of the UEFA Champions League, Ligue 1, FA Cup and UEFA Super Cup, Riise has earned plenty of titles in 17 years as a professional, but his career also contains highlights that have nothing to do with silverware. The central defender told FIFA.com that he will always remember the time he spent at Fulham playing alongside his brother Bjorn Helge.
“He’s my best friend,” the Norwegian explained. “We played together in the national team for five years and were even room-mates. That was something very special. We spent a year together at Fulham, which was a dream come true,” he continued. “He’s my younger brother and I always want to look out for him. I wish him only the best. It’s not easy to be my brother when I’ve had so much success.”
Despite his class and impressive club record, Riise has never featured at a major international tournament, with Norway unable to qualify for a European Championship or FIFA World Cup™ since UEFA EURO 2000. “We just weren’t good enough; it’s that simple,” he admitted. “After a long qualifying campaign, the best teams pull through in the end, and we weren’t one of them. Norwegian football has been at a low ebb for the past ten years.
“I think we need to focus more on youth and give them the opportunity to compete so that they can improve and train better. Fortunately the situation has changed a little. When it comes to the national side, we need more players gaining valuable experience overseas, but things are improving now and some talented youngsters are coming through the ranks. Perhaps not in time for next year’s European Championship, but we’ll have a chance of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.”
And although there appears to be no doubt that Riise will still be playing then, it is still impossible to guess where exactly in the world he might be.