CHENNAI: It’s hard not to get intimidated by John Arne Riise when you come across him on the pitch. His Viking looks, the two tattoo-covered tree-trunks he has for arms and that pile-driver of a left foot is enough to make mere mortals tremble. But off the pitch, Riise couldn’t be more genial, the very antonym of the aura he exudes within the touchline.
It appeared India was only fortunate enough to get three months of the Norwegian when he announced his retirement after a spell with Delhi Dynamos. But the former Liverpool star donned his boots again when Marco Materazzi called him up. Express caught up with him in an interview. Excerpts...
Were you disappointed with how the first game went?
We controlled the game, especially in the second half. At 2-1 up, I was sure we were going to hold on, but then they got a penalty late on. It’s always disappointing when you lose 3 points that late. But one point in the opening game is not bad, away from home, against Atletico de Kolkata.
Now that you’ve started the tournament, how is the team looking?
100 per cent, I feel that we are a team good enough to keep the title. That’s why I signed when Marco called me. Because I want to be a champion. I came close last year with Delhi when we reached the semifinals. This year, I really want to retain the title for Chennaiyin.
Has the ISL been everything that you expected it to be?
Last year, I didn’t know what I was going to get when I came to India. It was difficult because I am used to going out with friends and all. Here I was staying in at the hotel and travelling to the games. This year I am more prepared. But you can see that the league is getting better. The standard of football is getting better as are the Indian footballers. And people in Europe and Norway are asking about it. Some of the Norwegian players want to come and play.
You have Gurpreet Singh Sandhu playing in Norway. Do you think more Indians can make it there?
I will try and help Indian players to come outside India to play. When you compare to Norway, there they coach the players from a young age. Here you don’t have that. And that’s the biggest difference. I hope we can get some Indians outside. I spoke a lot to Robin Singh last year and I was trying to help him to come outside. Jeje (Lalpekhlua) is a powerful striker who can also make it. From what I have seen this year, there are Indian players who will make it abroad. Where, I don’t know. But it’s not just about football. You have to live alone in a new country and adapt to unfamiliar conditions.
How has linking up with Marco Materazzi been?
I have played against Marco a few times on the pitch. I had never met him off it, but he is the nicest person you will ever meet. He wants results, he wants hard-work and professionalism. I have already learnt a lot from him.
You have already played under two contemporaries-turned-managers (Materazzi and Roberto Carlos). Are you thinking of managing?
Absolutely. I have already started taking my coaching badges. Who knows? Next season I may even come back to manage in India.