‘Door open’ for Riise’s return

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John Arne Riise surprised his fans, teammates and Norwegian football officials when he announced on Monday that he would no longer be a candidate to play on Norway’s national football team (landslaget). Coach Egil “Drillo” Olsen said the “door was open” in case Riise, known for being impulsive, wanted to return.

John Arne Riise has long been one of Norway's top professional football players, but now he no longer wants to play on the national squad. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

John Arne Riise has long been one of Norway’s top professional football players, but now he no longer wants to play on the national squad. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

Riise wrote in a press release that he wanted to devote his full attention to his professional club, Fulham in England. Playing for his national team as well was said to be too much for the 32-year-old, who believes he can extend his football career by a few more years if he concentrates on just his professional club.

Few commentators or football officials seemed to believe Riise’s reason for quitting the national squad. Erlend Nesje of newspaper Aftenposten, who has followed Riise’s career since it began, wrote on Tuesday that Riise was quitting “because he’s tired of misunderstandings, criticism and ridicule.” He’s attracted much of the off-field attention himself, from the red Ferrari he once drove to a much-publicized fist fight with teammate John Carew and financial problems that landed him in a courtroom, but Nesje noted that “In Norway, you get attacked for anything that deviates from the norm.” Riise deviated often.

Nesje and several others speculated that Riise finally got fed up after catching flak for critical comments he made about how captains for the national team are chosen. Riise told TV2 last week he was furious that he was overlooked for the national match against Ukraine in February, and his comments provoked both teammates and team leaders.

National football coach Egil "Drillo" Olsen, surrounded by reporters on Monday after news broke that John Arne Riise would no longer play for Drillo's team. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

National football coach Egil “Drillo” Olsen, surrounded by reporters on Monday after news broke that John Arne Riise would no longer play for Drillo’s team. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

Coach Drillo told reporters he didn’t think the conflict over captains had much bearing on Riise’s decision, and said he thought it was sad Riise was withdrawing. Drillo also praised Riise and his football career, noting that his participation in 110 national matches was a record Drillo thinks will stand for a long time.

The timing of Riise’s decision to drop out of national team action was unusual, coming right in the midst of Norway’s efforts to do well enough in current qualification rounds to play in the next World Cup in Rio. His resignation was effective immediately, and just a month before the national team’s next scheduled, and critical, match against Albania.

Nils Johan Semb, a former national football coach who’s now the sport’s top official in Norway, said he was also surprised and neither he nor Drillo had talked with Riise. Assistant coach Ola By Rise said he had spoken with Riise a few weeks ago, at which point Riise reportedly said he was “very motivated, but a few things have happened since then,” including the TV2 interview.

Riise remains one of Norway’s best football players ever, and some think he deserves a better send-off. Not many, if any, Norwegians have played for 14 years in the top leagues of Europe, played in a Champions League final and won, played 110 national matches and scored 16 goals. Just last fall, Riise saved Norway’s honor when he scored the winning goal in a qualifying match against Slovenia.

Riise’s list of merits goes on, and some football fans were hanging on to the thought that if Norway’s team makes it to the World Cup, Riise might make a comeback. For now, it’s no crisis for the national team that he won’t be among those Drillo can choose for the upcoming Albania match or other matches. No one is irreplaceable, and there’s lots of young talent keen on getting a chance to play, including Riise’s own younger brother.

By quitting so abruptly, though, Riise has given up his chance to get a standing ovation from grateful fans, or his teammates. Former coach Åge Hareide said Norwegians “have perhaps given him little credit for everything he achieved,” and now won’t get the chance to put things right.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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