x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Riise makes it to Fulham after a 10-year detour

The Norwegian defender nearly joined the club in 2001, before opting for Liverpool. He has now arrived at Craven Cottage, following a spell at Roma.

Riise, who can play left-back or left midfield, is known for his rocket of a shot which has brought him a high yield of goals in his career. Ian Walton / Getty Images
Riise, who can play left-back or left midfield, is known for his rocket of a shot which has brought him a high yield of goals in his career. Ian Walton / Getty Images

John Arne Riise had a contrite phone call to make last week. It was to Egil Olsen, Norway's coach.

Riise apologised for having been out late with other internationals after his country's European championship qualifying victory over Iceland. The Norwegian media eagerly made a connection between the players' extended nocturnal celebrations and the defeat the team then suffered against Denmark four days later.

"I forgot the time," Riise told compatriot reporters.

Riise had a better excuse than some others. He was actually missing from the line-up because of injury, but should return for Fulham against Blackburn Rovers in the Premier League today.

He can expect some mild teasing from his club colleagues for the incident, and has been reminded in the Scandinavian press that his long and successful career has been punctuated by minor controversies of this sort.

The wing-back was once involved in an angry confrontation while on national team duty with the striker John Carew who, at 6ft 5ins tall, is not a man to pick a fight with.

There was also a reported clash at Liverpool with his then-colleague Craig Bellamy, whose reputation is considerably worse than Riise's on matters of uncontrolled aggression; Bellamy allegedly threatened Riise with a golf club.

Carew and Riise are now good friends. Peace and harmony, by all accounts, was also quickly restored with Bellamy.

Riise will turn 31 later this month. The footballer, at least, has gained a maturity that perhaps some of these stories do not obviously suggest.

He brings to the demanding role of the modern left-back high levels of energy and technique. Riise is physically imposing, a muscular presence in defence. Going forward, he has a ferociously powerful and accurate left foot. Riise's crossing was the principal asset sought by Martin Jol, Fulham's new manager, when he took over in the summer, mindful that in Bobby Zamora, he has a skilled target man in the penalty box.

Riise's game was already familiar to Premier League players and coaches.

He spent seven years at Liverpool, where he won the Champions League, an FA Cup and a League Cup. He survived a period of high turnover at Anfield, and came through several new arrivals at left-back and on the left of midfield with his first-team place secure.

"He's a smashing lad and a terrific footballer," said Phil Thompson, assistant manager at the club when Riise first arrived.

That was 10 years ago when, as it happens, he was supposed to be joining Fulham. Jean Tigana, the Frenchman, was the London club's manager at the time and knew Riise from Monaco, whom the flame-haired Norwegian had joined as a teenager.

Riise won a Ligue 1 title with Monaco. When Tigana offered him a future in the Premier League, with a newly promoted Fulham, he was eager. Scandinavian footballers typically are: English football has been followed closely there for generations.

But as Riise was scheduled to advance talks with Fulham, Liverpool pounced. He altered course for Merseyside and scarcely looked back. He scored a goal on his debut, the first in Liverpool's 3-2 victory over Bayern Munich in the European Super Cup. His fierce drives would bring a high yield of goals for a player who, under Gerard Houllier's management, generally played at full-back rather than in midfield.

He hit seven in 26 starts in his first season, and another half-dozen in each of the next two campaigns. Under Rafa Benitez's management, Riise more often found himself deployed further forward.

He once said publicly how he preferred aspects of Benitez's approach to that of Houllier.

Houllier remembered the remarks, and ticked Riise off when the former manager joined Benitez and the team as they celebrated the remarkable comeback that saw Liverpool beat AC Milan on penalties after trailing 3-0 in the European Cup final in Istanbul in 2005.

Riise moved to Roma in 2008. He became popular with supporters and rose to the big occasions. He scored important goals against Inter Milan, AC Milan and Juventus and was a galvanising figure in Roma's spirited push for the 2010 Serie A title, a bid that fell short only on the season's final afternoon.

But his certainty of a first-team place at Roma diminished with the wholesale changes at the Italian club during the summer. Luis Enrique, the new coach, had pushed for the recruitment of Jose Angel, the young Spanish left-back. Riise then learnt of Fulham's interest from a reliable source: his brother. Bjorn Helge Riise - right-footed and rather less celebrated as a footballer - has been at Craven Cottage for the past two years.

"I'd always admired John Arne as a player," Jol said at the elder Riise's presentation. The club had forgiven him his detour to Liverpool a decade ago.