Football commentators and sportswriters in Norway were suddenly hailing former Liverpool player John Arne Riise this week as among the country’s greatest ever, after he announced his equally sudden retirement as an active player on Monday, at an age of 35.
May 25, 2005 was singled out as the high point of Riise’s career, when he was part of Liverpool’s squad that won the Champions League after triumph in Istanbul. Add to that 110 matches as part of Norway’s national team, “and we have the answer to who is Norway’s greatest football player of all time,” wrote sports columnist Reidar Sollie in newspaper Dagsavisen on Tuesday.
Never mind how the young football millionaire, who left school and Norway at the age of 17 to launch a pro career from Monaco, became a so-called “debt slave” with a period of serious financial problems. Set aside his tough and turbulent family relationships, his famous fist fight with teammate John Carew just before a national team match and his conflicts with his hometown club Aalesund, ironically where he most recently ended up again playing with his younger brother Bjørn Helge.
As Sollie wrote on Tuesday, “there’s been a lot of high-livin’ life that may not be recommended for others.” But Riise was renowned for his willingness to train hard, his stamina and how he knew what was needed to be done on the field. He was always the first out on the training field, and the last to leave. Last summer he kept training with Oslo club Vålerenga, just to have others to train with while he was “between jobs,” and he reportedly raised the quality of the training for everyone there.
Even though Norway also can claim Manchester United veteran Ole Gunnar Solskjær, and has had many other top football talents through the years, some think Riise outdid them, in terms of efficiency and the desire to score. No other Norwegian has played as many matches for the national team as Riise, many sports reporters quickly pointed out, and he retired before he needed to.
Riise himself said he simply realized he had lost motivation. “I’ve been thinking about it for a few weeks now,” he said at a press conference at Color Line Stadium in Aalesund. “I realize that I don’t have the ability to give that little extra any longer, and can’t manage to push myself. It’s terribly tough for me, but now I’m only giving 95 percent and not 110 percent like I have earlier.” He’s also had some turbulent times since recently returning to Aalesund, and been criticized in the media, but he denies that influenced his decision.
“I’ve been through tougher times before,” he said. “It’s not because of the media that I’m quitting.” The management of Aalesund said they were sorry that his tenure became much shorter than expected. Riise said he looked forward to living a more “normal” life, “getting up when I want, doing what I want (some might argue that’s not “normal”) and being there more for those around me.”
Even though he wasn’t entirely popular off the field, with his playboy image and tendency to flaunt status symbols in a way often frowned upon by Norwegians, Riise deserves his place in the record books. Speculation was already flying over what will be his next arena. Few expect him to withdraw from the media spotlight.