John Arne Riise: Back and on the attack

Fulham's defender with the thunderbolt in his left foot wanted another shot at the Premier League
Click to follow
The Independent Online

While Arsenal, Chelsea and the Manchester clubs were dominating this summer's transfer stories, the arrival from Italy of a Champions' League winner known for spectacular goals passed largely under the radar.

Fulham, though, acquired proven quality by bringing John Arne Riise back to the Premier League after three years away with Roma. And if Norwegian left-backs lack the glamour of Argentinian forwards, tapping "Riise" and "goal" into YouTube will remind you that anything Sergio Aguero of Manchester City can do, the former Liverpool defender has probably done better.

After Monaco, Liverpool and Roma, Riise's next logical move at 30 might have been to Spain or the Bundesliga, but no. "I told my agent I didn't want to hear about anything but Premier League," he said. "My best years were when I played here. The desire to come back was big, and when Fulham came on board, it was quite an easy decision.

"I spoke to Brede [Hangeland, his Fulham and Norway team-mate] and my brother [Bjorn Helge, the Fulham midfielder whom he describes as his "best friend"] and I'm loving it."

A decade of thinking in terms of the Champions' League has not dimmed Riise's enthusiasm about his new club's more modest aims. "We came eighth last year, so getting into Europe is a good target for this season, maybe making seventh. We're always strong at home, but we want to get a few more away wins."

The first chance comes at Molineux today, with Riise the only major addition so far by the new manager, Martin Jol, to a settled squad. "You can almost pick the team every week over the last two years, but straight away I didn't feel like an outsider. This team is mainly so strong defensively but Martin is an offensive-minded manager, he wants to score more goals, so he's going to let me attack."

Wise move. Riise hit 33 goals for Liverpool, mostly netbusters. "I've been lucky in the number of goals and the way they've gone in. I've never worked a lot on free-kicks but on shooting, yes – how to hit the ball, body position. I filmed myself a lot while I was practising to see how I could improve."

His timing could hardly be bettered. His first League goal for Liverpool came against Everton at Goodison Park, and his first at Anfield was a 27-yard thunderbolt in a 3-1 win over Manchester United. "That got my Liverpool career off to a great start. Playing against David Beckham – who was an idol of mine – against a rival, it was a massive goal. I scored some better ones, but that was maybe the most important."

After reaching two Champions' League finals with the Reds he left Liverpool in 2008 for a fresh challenge, but has mixed feelings about his three seasons in Rome. "If you play well and the team does well, it's maybe the best place in the whole of European football. But if the team struggles, you have to be mentally strong to take the criticism from the fans and the papers. There were times when the fans protested at the training ground, which is hard for a player who is not used to that kind of stuff.

"I had the language problem in the beginning, me and my family, and it wasn't my style of football, but that's why I went, to get better in areas where I felt I wasn't that good, so I wouldn't change those three years. It made me more technical and more tactically aware. I had the physical side, the aggression, in England, but I wanted to see if I could do something more."

While with Roma he played – and scored – against Fulham in a Europa League group game. Fulham have already played seven games in this season's competition, and further progress, along with his aim to stretch his 97 caps for Norway beyond 100, will test what he calls "the best medical team I've ever seen".

The attraction of Europe, he admits, is purely sporting. "I've travelled all around the world and I haven't seen anything, just hotel rooms and receptions and eating lounges, but I don't care about that. I just want to do my job, get the rest and get ready. It would be nice to see the sights sometimes, but there's no chance."

Not a problem, some might say, in Wolverhampton? "But I'm still living on a buzz, being back, so I'm looking forward to every away game in the Premier League," he says. Especially his return to Liverpool in April. "I hope I'll get a good reception. I'll want to beat them, of course. It was a fantastic seven years, but I'm a Fulham player now."

Wolverhampton Wanderers v Fulham is this afternoon, kick-off 2pm