John Arne Riise
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John Arne Riise talks Liverpool v Man United rivalry and the Champions League

| 14.01.2021

The rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United is one of the fiercest battles in world football. The two sides meet at Anfield in the Premier League this weekend in what promises to be a humdinger of a contest.

Former Liverpool left-back John Arne Riise knows all about their neighbours from down the M62 having featured for the Reds between 2001 and 2008.

Ahead of his Liverpool v Manchester United Ladbrokes 5-A-Side selection, we spoke with the red-headed Norwegian who was remembered both on Merseyside and in Manchester for having a red-hot left-foot…

On rivalries

“I loved playing in the Liverpool v Man United game, more than the Merseyside Derby, in fact. The only reason for that is because those games against United were games where you’re playing against a side who is fighting for the same thing that you are; the Premier League title, or the top four, winning trophies.

“With Everton it was more just passion because the two teams are from the same city. It was always tough against Everton, don’t get me wrong. But I preferred playing against Man United because you know you’re playing against the best of the best.

“Playing against Everton was always a great challenge, and Tim Cahill was my neighbour at the time. We became good friends over the years. After every game we played every weekend we’d meet up at 10pm or 11pm in the evening after the one who’d played away had got back home, play pool, watch Sky Sports News and talk about the games we’d just had.

“We used to build up the Merseyside Derby together throughout the season, but after every other game in the campaign we’d meet up and just talk about football, our goals, different players, performances and chill. Neither of us could sleep after a game anyway so we’d hang out together and have fun.”

On his worst memory

“The worst memory for me without a doubt in this fixture was breaking Alan Smith’s ankle. I took a free-kick and he broke his ankle by blocking it – rivals or not, you don’t want to see something like that happen to a fellow professional. Personally, that’s the worst thing that I’ve experienced in that game.

“After it had happened, I went over to check up on him and I could just see his foot hanging there loose. You get sick, you know. You feel horrible.

“He’s stretchered off and I have to keep playing in the game – a massive game for us – but as soon as the match ended and I got back in the dressing room and showered, I called him in the hospital from my car and spoke to him about what had happened.

“He knew it wasn’t intentional, but at the same time I just wanted to make sure he knew I was sorry so I got his number and spoke to him straight away. Fans had their say and thought there was intent there because we were rivals but for me you respect your fellow professionals, whoever they play for. It was a bad day, a bad night for me, and I’d never wish that kind of thing on anyone.

“But when you’re playing football at that level you need to just focus on your next game. It’s hard, so I dealt with it in my head for the rest of the day and back home in the evening, and obviously the next day you have to deal with it all again because it’s in the papers, but then you have to carry on with your duties and focus on the next match.

“I would text Alan from time to time to see how he was getting on and make sure he was OK and the main thing was that he got well again.

“All I can say is I’m glad social media wasn’t a thing back then. Obviously fans can overreact at times and that’s normal but thankfully I didn’t see too much of what Man United fans were saying about me because we didn’t have things like Twitter.

“No one can blame me for what happened; I was just doing my job and trying to have a shot and Alan was doing his job by blocking it. It was just unfortunate.

“My teammates could see after the game in the dressing room how much it affected me because I just felt really bad for the player – but they were great to make sure I was OK and the lads just told me to get hold of him and keep in touch with him throughout his injury and that’s what I did.”

On Istanbul in 2005

“I’ve only watched the game back once, two years ago, and that was only because I had to for work. I don’t watch it because I missed my penalty.

“I had severe cramp by the time the shootout came around, having played the 90 minutes and extra-time. So when I walked up to take my penalty, I didn’t know what I was going to do.

“Normally I’d be confident and would just bang it in as hard as I could because that way my style – but I was so scared of getting cramp in my right foot if I went with that approach that it made me reconsider what I was going to do.

“So, walking up to the spot I thought to myself I’ve got three options: smash it, place it or try a panenka. I was thinking about the panenka which is quite crazy but I wanted to be remembered.

“I put the ball on the spot, walked back and turned around to begin my run-up; it was only at that moment I decided exactly what I was going to do. It’s the only time in my life I haven’t done what I should have done: smash it.

“The funny thing is that I walked back to my teammates, Stevie came and gave me a hug and then Jamie Carragher turned to me and said “Ginge, haven’t you seen Dida has dived to the same side for every penalty?” I said “why the f*** did you not tell me that before I went up there?!”

“I’ve seen the goals because they’ve been shown so many times, obviously – but I’ve never watched the whole game until two years ago when I was in a studio and we were covering the game. That’s the only time I’ve ever watched that penalty and that was only because I had to for work.

“I’m still so angry with myself because I didn’t do what I’d normally do. Even though it’s the biggest moment of my life, winning the Champions League – it’s by far the biggest moment of my life – I’m just so annoyed with myself.

“Immediately after the game obviously you’re surrounded by celebrations and players and fans are all happy that we’ve just won the game, but when you get back to the dressing room and you’ve calmed down, that’s when I started to think about that miss.

“We were so exhausted after that game, having played 120 minutes, a penalty shootout and all of the media work afterwards, we were so tired but it hit me afterwards that I just should’ve scored my penalty. At the same time, though, I was sitting on a bus with the Champions League trophy next to me so I can’t complain.

“There were so many penalties that probably could and should have been retaken because Jerzy kept coming off his line – and you’ve got a linesman who is stood next to him on the line who is supposed to make sure that kind of thing doesn’t happen – it’s a good job the game wasn’t being played today because I’m sure AC Milan would’ve been able to retake a couple of their penalties!”

You can see what else Riise had to say about Liverpool’s form, his friend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer plus his prediction for Sunday’s match here.

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