John Arne Riise: A loyal servant who must make way

All good things come to an end. It’s a shame but a fact of life and indeed football. For five years Norwegian John Arne Riise proved a valiant, effective and popular figure at Liverpool Football Club. His boundless energy and ferocious shot ensured a steady rapport with the Kop, one which means he’ll always be looked upon favourably in nostalgic terms.

Sadly, in an era where lady luck remains callously intent on Manc flirtation, sentiment gets you nowhere. We need to catch our rivals, not fall behind as a result of our own stagnancy.

It is the latter which has cost us dear in the modern age of Premier League Football. By hook or by crook we should have had a 70,000 plus stadium built and occupied by now. We should be dominant in the global merchandise market and capable of attracting the top name stars. Eighteen championships has remained at such due to conservatism. It’s sad but true. The Bootroom philosophy is legendary yes but it became outdated and with it so did we. Sentimentality proved our ultimate downfall.

Bob Paisley was famed for dishing out Championship winning medals with a message coated in caution. ‘Well done’ he would say, ‘but let’s think about next season.’ Complacency was never an issue and subsequently, neither was our dominance.

Unfortunately that ethos was never matched in the boardroom and even now evolution remains tentative. What has this got to do with Riise? You may ask.

Riise celebratesWell his presence is a symbol of that lack of innovation. I love the lad but his performances this past twelve months have reeked of mediocrity. He looks like Jade Goody would at a beauty pageant, bewildered and evidently out of place.

Reading Robbie Fowler’s autobiography provides a different slant on this type of dismissal. He claims that too many of today’s generation are treated like ‘disposable commodities.’ I’d agree with God’s analysis but at the same time removing the surplus is now a necessity.

Riise’s Liverpool career has been wonderful in so many ways. He arrived at Melwood as the only summer signing in 2001. Breaking a chain of poor left-backs was not going to be easy. Traore, Vignal and Ziege’s were not so much big boots to fill as unworn ones. He settled with sheer aplomb nonetheless, scoring early goals against Bayern Munich in the Super Cup Final and a succulent effort against the bitter Blues’ at Goodison.

Very soon his place in Kop folklore would be cemented. On November 4th 2001 he seemed to channel all Liverpudlians’ vehemence and detest of Manchester United into one solitary kick. That ball screeched as it whistled through the Merseyside air and rattled the back of the Anfield Road net. It is hard to imagine anything going down so well with the Red faithful. A similar strike to Gary Neville’s temple perhaps?

Riise was suddenly a firm favourite. His first season in England was a glorious success personally and though his form dithered over the next couple he regained that unequivocal tenacity and eye for goal under Rafael Benitez.

Garcia and Riise, 2005His input towards the Champions League triumph of 2005 was monumental. He played every minute of that campaign and netted an important goal against Leverkusen in the Quarter-Final. In the showpiece finale itself he supplied that telling cross which Steven Gerrard planted home, sparking the beginning of a grand comeback.

Coming into last season he was considered one of the best full-backs in the business. Chelsea were even rumoured to have made a cheeky bid for his services before purchasing Ashley Cole.

2007/08 though was a demise greater than Michael Barrymore’s. John Arne had become so predictable in his play, running one dimensionally, with next-to-no versatility in his attacking forays. The once deadly shot was now as lethal as Julian Clarey in a boxing ring.

Maintaining possession however was undoubtedly his biggest flaw. For some bizarre reason he was unable to pass. Simple passages of play were being undone by his inability in this department.

Riise own goal at LutonI was at Anfield for the Middlesbrough game this season when he entered the action with around fifteen minutes remaining. I couldn’t believe my eyes as he consistently surrendered possession. At first fans vented their displeasure but eventually an air of sympathy lingered. And indeed it is upsetting when someone loses their way to such an unprecedented degree.

The horrendous own goal at home to Chelsea was the final nail in the coffin. I am of the belief that Rafa had already made up his mind by this point. Riise was a goner and that clanger ensured his dispatch would come with a first class stamp.

He fared no better in the return at Stamford Bridge and Emiliano Insua was drafted in as cover for the final two games of the season.

When push comes to shove we cannot tolerate that inconsistency any longer. I’m not the ruthless type and sure part of me would like to see us retain Riise so he can rediscover his brilliance of years gone by. But by the same token I look across at Patrice Evra, Gael Clichy and that swine Cole. We would be falling behind if we did act quickly and decisively.

DossenaThe talk of the town seems to suggest that Andrea Dossena is forthcoming. He’s Italian which exports immediate confidence defensively. Then again thoughts of fellow countryman Gianluca Festa extinguish such encouragement.

Hopefully his supposed capture proves good business. Sure we need to improve offensively (particularly against the top three) to win the title, but we also need to tighten at the back. This is not a scathing criticism, we only conceded 28 goals last term, yet Chelsea were breached twice less while United only let-in 22. Your defence is the bedrock.

As for Riise his days look well and truly numbered. We can only thank him for his great service and remember the good times. Indeed when feeling low it is a favourite pastime of many Kopites to re-run THAT thunderbolt.

He has a chance to re-build his career at another club, an opportunity I hope he takes. I wish him all the best.

We on the other-hand must move on. Sentiment does not win you titles. Something we’ve found to our cost for far too long.