Ex Reds star John Arne Riise: Jürgen Klopp is “a genius” whom I would have loved to play for


The Liverpool heroes of Istanbul – Where are they now?

Such was his barnstorming second-half performance in one of the greatest sporting comebacks of modern times, it can be easy to forget former Liverpool left-back John Arne Riise had a penalty saved during the shoot-out that saw The Reds lift the 2005 Champions League trophy.

But the former Anfield favourite has revealed he might have been remembered for an even more high-profile contribution from 12 yards, if the rock-paper-scissors he was going over in his mind had gone differently.

“I didn’t think about pressure,” said the man who would become the most capped player in Norwegian football, as he reflected on the long walk he made to take his side’s third shoot-out penalty. “I was too busy deciding what to do.

“I had cramp in injury time, extra time … I was scared [about what would happen]if I smashed it, as I would normally have done – I was scared of cramp. So when I was walking from the halfway line to the penalty, I haven’t  decided what to do yet. I was thinking: ‘smash, place… or Panenka’.” Yes, you read that correctly; with the world watching, the Liverpool left-back was pondering whether this might be the time to go for the ‘falling leaf’, cheekily chipped option that has left players of the calibre of Maradona looking like prize plums.

“I put the ball down – I didn’t decide,” added Arne Riise. “I turn around, walk to the 18-yard line – haven’t decided. When I turned to look at the goal, that’s when I decided: ‘safety first’ – and that’s the only time in my life I went safety first, and I regret it today.” Admitting he had never tried to float a penalty, Arne Riise explained: “I wanted to do it because it’s the final, and I wanted to be remembered for something.”

The former Aalesund, Monaco, Roma and Fulham man was patiently fielding questions at the Golazio bar in Camberwell, London, that was opened by Tim McTigue to celebrate his love of all things 1990s-Serie A-Channel 4 related. This week it hosted a launch event for Arne Riise’s biography: Running Man.

While musing on the dramatic finish to that memorable night in Istanbul, the Norwegian star offered Prost International an insight into the tactical acumen, timing and peerless contingency planning that means homegrown Liverpool favourite Jamie Carragher is probably better off in the TV studio than the dug-out.

“The funny thing is, I was walking back to the halfway line and I was so disappointed, and then Carra comes up to me and says: ‘listen, Ginge, why didn’t you see the goalkeeper always goes the same way every time?’ I told him: ‘Why didn’t you tell me before I took the pen?’”

With a player capped 110 times for his country at senior level insisting he wants his story to inspire people to battle through tough starts in life, Arne Riise offered up the remarkable revelation he was frequently chosen last for teams in the school playground.

“People who had broken their foot or something, and were on crutches, were picked before me,” he said, at the same time both illustrating the bullying he faced as a pupil in a new school, and establishing common ground with his interviewer – at least until going on to explain the schoolyard snubs were down to jealousy of his obvious talent.

It is tempting to wonder what his boyhood bullies were thinking as they watched the Istanbul final on television.

Felix Magath did everything the opposite way to others said Riise
Photo: wikipedia

Arne Riise’s affection for Liverpool was obvious as he discussed the merits of Jürgen Klopp – “a genius” whom he “would have loved to play for”.

He described how he watched Sunday’s momentous Merseyside derby on his phone in the back of a car, following a Laser Quest birthday party with his son – in itself an arresting image, the tatto-covered, musclebound former footballer charging around at pace, scattering seven-year-olds like ninepins in his characteristic buccaneering style.

But the former player’s love of Anfield was not enough to prompt a prediction Liverpool would win the title, with the defender adding: “I think still [the]Premier League’s going to be too difficult, I think City’s too strong, I don’t think City’s going to slip up that many times.”

Arne Riise has managerial ambitions of his own, having just completed his UEFA B licence, and said he regularly rings up clubs in Norway to join them for training.

He pauses for a long time when asked which of the managers he played under he thinks he would most resemble, before settling on “Ranieri [at Roma]… or maybe Benitez.”

Not Norway coach and long-ball fundamentalist Egil Olsen, under whom he played in two spells for the national team? “He has a different view of tactics in football.” Or Felix Magath, his boss at Fulham? “He did everything [the]opposite of what everybody else did.”

Disappointingly, Arne Riise did not touch upon the German’s insistence on the importance of cheese in treating injuries, but he did offer up one other cultural observation when recalling how he had instantly fitted in on Merseyside.

“When I came there, I found a home straight away,” said a player who will always have a piece of Liverpool in his soul. “Norwegians are like Liverpool people. Of course I looked like a Scouser, you know – ginger and freckles with white skin, so I mixed straight in.”


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