By Ben Stebbings @Stebbiino
With sixteen year-old Norwegian wunderkind Martin Odegaard completing his protracted transfer to Real Madrid this week to either fulfill his undoubted potential or fade into obscurity (Freddy Adu long-ago taught us to temper our enthusiasms), we thought it apt to venture back into the career of one of his nation’s favourite sons. Yes, we know John Arne Riise hasn’t officially retired yet (he’s currently ripping up trees with APOEL in the Cypriot First Division) but the redheaded left-back has more than enough moments in his back catalogue to warrant a retrospective. Strap yourselves in as we release the kraken.
John Arne Riise was a bona fide, top flight, ace in the hole, a copper-headed destroyer of nets that sent hearts aflutter every time he wound back his lethal left foot. A dynamic, driven human torch who was just as likely to reach the point of ignition (hot and fresh out the kitchen) through a clash with a teammate as he was via a rocket-powered wonder-strike
On paper, the Scandinavian was a defender; a pacey left-back encouraged to scamper down the line when able before passing the ball on to a more capable teammate. But, thankfully, the game isn’t played on paper and, at all new clubs, Riise wasted little time showing his managers that he could be as effective in his opponent’s final third as he could be his own.
As a result, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that would include a tackle or block (or a cross or pass for that matter) when pushed for a list of the left-back’s defining moments. While we are in no way dismissive of Riise’s defensive capabilities, you don’t have to be an O’Jay to understand you’ve got to give the people what they want. As such, the Norwegian’s Top Five is goal-centric and unashamedly so.
5) AS MONACO 1 Girondins de Bordeaux 0, 16th February 2000
It wasn’t until the 73rd minute that a nineteen year-old John Arne Riise would get his chance to shine in his club’s neutered encounter against Bordeaux. Coming on for Dado Prso (remember him?) and evidently chomping at the bit, the rectangular-faced power-merchant sliced through the game’s one-pace tedium with a forty-yard lightening bolt ten minutes later. That swerve!
Imagine the sheer impudence it must take for a teenage left-back to attempt a forty-yard hit-and-hope in the last ten minutes of a game, whilst top scorers David Trezeguet (22 goals that year) and Marco Simone (21 goals) stand open up front, calling for the ball.
Now factor in that this is a key game in Monaco’s season; a match against the previous year’s league winners Bordeaux that Les Rouges et Blancs need to win to solidify their own title bid.
For Riise to shamble up to the ball with all the poise and elegance of the Juggernaut on a travelator, and hit it with all his might, knowing the reaction he was sure to get were it to sail harmlessly wide of goal, takes self-confidence and a good old fashioned love of shooting that even Chris Kyle may have balked at.
The goal, a strong contender for the best on this list in terms of pure implausibility, was the first real signal that the Scandi youngster was far more than a fleet-footed defender and had the added bonus of keeping up the pace in Monaco’s title challenge.
The Riviera-based club would go on to win the league by seven points that season and Liverpool would soon come calling for their goal-hungry left-back.
4) Juventus 1 ROMA 2, 23rd January 2010
This above clip doesn’t kick in until around the 1:35 mark but we’d advise you to watch it in it’s entirety and marvel at the amount of times Riise attempts to break forward during that period. Our count is four in the space of a minute before he eventually works his way to the back post to head the decisive stoppage time winner. It’s a fine header too but the goal is all about his movement and undeterred determination to get forward.
You may question why we’ve opted for a rather routine header at number four when there’s a wealth of clips of infinitely better Riise belters sitting idly on youtube, demanding selection. The simple answer is the significance of this goal far outweighs any humdrum haymaker against Birmingam.
The victory was Roma’s first win over Juventus since 2004 and their first away win against them since 2001. It kept the Giallorossi in the title hunt (they would go on to finish an admirable second, two points from Inter Milan’s treble winning side) whilst denting Juventus’ own top four ambitions (The Bianconeri would finish well short in seventh).
Riise was impeccable on the night; an unrelenting surge of fizz and energy fully deserving of a goal. He was also responsible for the run which earlier forced Buffon into a do-or-die tackle; the keeper lost and was rightfully sent off, stretching Juventus’ back four which in turn lead to Riise creeping in at the back post undetected.
If that doesn’t swing it for you, we dare you to admit your life hasn’t got a tiny bit richer from listening to that commentary. ‘Johnnnnnnn… Johnnnnnnn… Johnnnnnnn…’ Jonathan Pearce’s urgent, orotund prattle can’t hope to compare.
3) Everton 1 LIVERPOOL 3, 15th September 2001
Riise runs and dribbles towards Everton’s goal in linear movements like a child overusing the sprint button on FIFA ’08 (tagline: can you FIFA ’08? A question that still keeps many of the world’s greatest minds awake at night). His finish, when it comes, is equally straight, whooshing under Paul Gerrard’s collapsing mass before the keeper has registered what is happening. The celebration; a bare chested, six-pack exposing, knee sliding, show of exuberance, comes across as a less contrived version of Cristiano Ronaldo’s Champions League tribute to his own magnificence.
The three-act moment is rich with rapid footwork, unyielding intent and cocksure passion; an imperious goal.
What a way to open your Premier League account for a new club.
Liverpool may never have been at risk of losing this particular Merseyside derby (Gerrard and Owen had quickly cancelled out Kevin Campbell’s opener by the time Riise revved into gear) but the Norwegian’s goal emphasised the quality gap between the local rivals.
It also presented a noticeable upgrade in style for a team that had, for so long, laboured with the likes of Rob Jones, Vegard Heggem and eternal football sticker swapsie Stig Inge Bjornebye at full back. Liverpool fans were getting the first hints that they may have found a left-back who could own his position for the next seven years.
It is not hard to understand the excitement that pervaded through the Kop when Alberto Moreno scored a carbon copy of Riise’s effort in his second game for the club. But the Spaniard, while showing obvious potential, offers subtler qualities and lacks the whizz bang wallop of his predecessor; the truth is there can be only one John Arne Riise.
2) Barcelona 1 LIVERPOOL 2, 21st February 2007
An abhorrent Barcelona defensive display (including an attempted clearing header from Rafael Marquez best described as godawful) should not distract from the bite and persistence of Liverpool’s play. When the ball eventually drops to Craig Bellamy and he picks out an unmarked Riise (unmarked is kind; the left-back has made camp in a square mile of uninhabited space) there can only be one outcome. Riise being Riise, a second touch is not required, as he blasts the ball into the roof of the net.
Again, a goal selected for its context rather than aesthetic value (although we’d maintain it is a far harder finish than the Norwegian makes it seem, right foot and all), Riise’s winner not only swung the Champions League tie in the Mersey club’s favour, – Barcelona’s 1-0 win at Anfield proved not enough as Liverpool progressed on away goals – but followed a much-publicised skirmish with perennial bad boy Bellamy.
The incident, involving a training trip to the Algarve, an eight iron golf club and Steve Finnan hiding behind a bedroom door (all of which can be read about here), had been used by the tabloids as evidence of disarray in the Liverpool team leading up to the game. Riise and Bellamy duly responded by both putting in monstrous performances that merited their goals.
To beat the previous year’s Champions League winners is one thing. To respond to a period of turmoil with such unabated, up an at ’em bluster is another thing entirely.
The Reds would eventually make it to the final before coming unstuck at a revenge-seeking AC Milan team and Riise would add another blunderbuss to his personal collection against PSV Eindhoven in the quarters.
That Eric Abidal could somehow pip him to the left-back spot in UEFA’s Team of the Year that season is a travesty comparable to Glen Johnson’s continued international career.
1) LIVERPOOL 3 Manchester United 1, 4th November 2001
Real words don’t do this goal justice. You need to apply nonsensical descriptors like ‘it was a rum tum tugger of a strike’ or ‘it knocked the skimbleshanks out of the net’ which sound like passable colloquialism but are actually just characters from Cats. Superman flew around the earth slower than that free kick when he reversed time. Donnie Darko spent 133 minutes ruminating on the nature of worm holes while Riise spent mere milliseconds opening up new ones through the power of his boot. No one foot should have all that power. It is just obscene.
Could a goal in any other game smell as sweet?
On a list of ways to endear oneself to the Anfield faithful, scoring a sound barrier destroying scorcher against Liverpool’s most hated foes would rank somewhere near the top, slipping snugly between ‘find the receipt for Dejan Lovren’ and ‘give Steven Gerrard the last year of his life back’.
What registers most about Riise’s finest moment is the unrestrained ferocity of his strike; it was the footballing equivalent of throwing a feral cat into a wind tunnel or lathering a Chippendale in cocaine and dropping him into one of Michael Barrymore’s pool parties. The unadulterated brutality of Riise’s free kick came from a very raw, untamed place. If other strikes are labelled unstoppable, this one was unfathomable.
Moreover, it said everything that needed to be said about what Riise would bring to his new club, trimming away the fat and leaving behind only the facts. It showed the self-belief and excitability palpably present whenever the player touched the ball. It revealed his proclivity for wonder goals in important games (Arsenal, Chelsea and Newcastle all similarly felt his wrath). And it bore witness to a left foot so dangerous it near turned poor Alan Smith into a pantomime horse (no link included, journey alone if tempted to view the sickening injury again).
If you have a spare 12 minutes and 52 seconds we would strongly recommend you watch Riise’s Liverpool goal compendium in its entirety below, every finish – no matter how simple – is a red hot laser beam of destruction.
The left-back, although never ranked among the best in his time at the top level of the game, was a stimulating alternative to his more refined counterparts. A thunderbolt on a warm summer’s evening, a copper-haired Kop legend who will not soon be forgotten.