What Can Fulham Expect From John Arne Riise?

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 21: John Arne Riise of Fulham applauds the crowd as he is substituted during the UEFA Europa League 2nd Qualifying Round 2nd Leg match between Fulham and Crusaders at Craven Cottage on July 21, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

When Martin Jol announced that he would overhaul Fulham's rapidly aging squad, few would have put John Arne Riise at the top of their list of tempting young talents worthy of a new home upon the banks of the River Thames.

And, based on the final year of his Liverpool career, few fans of English soccer would presume Riise to still be a capable player.

An ever-present member of Liverpool's squad for seven years, Riise became well-known for his propensity to unleash wonder strikes early in his tenure with the Reds.

A lovely strike. Danny Murphy, Riise's teammate now and at the time of the goal, will surely be hoping to see a few more of those.

That was all a decade ago. Murphy is now 34, Riise 30.

Now, after spending three years in Italy with Roma, Riise has returned to England, signing with Fulham. The question is, what can we expect of Riise and how much does he have left in the tank?

We can expect Riise's cultured left boot to remain the same, that is fairly certain. If watching Danny Murphy thrive at the Cottage over the last few years or David Beckham operate in the United States and Italy has taught me anything, it's that technical proficiency dissipates at a much slower rate than physical assets.

Riise's pace and agility going forward were once major assets, as the above clip makes abundantly clear. That he will play at that pace with Fulham may not be realistic, but Riise should still be capable of keeping up with the speed of wide play in the Premiership through the entirety of his three-year contract.

Going over many of Riise's goals at Liverpool in the above clip, two things stood out to me:

1). How well Riise connects with the ball.

2). How far up the pitch Riise forays in attack.

Right off the bat, you see Riise scoring his first goal in a Liverpool kit while spearheading a counterattack alongside Michael Owen, putting the ball home with a sliding finish. A tendency for a typical full back this is not.

Another goal that stood out starts around the 3:16 mark of the video, with Riise scoring via a looping header. Try to recall a time when a Fulham left back found himself in position to score a goal with a header off of an attacking movement. Can you? Can you recall Franck Queudrue, Liam Rosenior, Paul Konchesky, Nicky Shorey or Carlos Salcido making this type of run? Carlos Bocanegra spent some time at left back and had a propensity to score goals via his head, but they came on set pieces, not attacking movements.

Better yet, can you imagine Roy Hodgson's reaction to watching a player foray forward like that? 

Jol, on the other hand, holds no such reservations about his left back getting forward and already stated his intent to allow Riise to play the same attacking style he's played his entire career.

Actually, I expect of him he will play the same role as he always did for Liverpool [and] for Roma, especially for Roma.

A great example of how Riise got forward in attack with Roma is found in a goal that he scored in the dying minutes of a match against Juventus in Jan., 2010, arguably his most famous as a member of the Gallorossi.

Notice Riise's intent to get forward as soon as Roma gain control of the ball on the right side of the pitch, his frustration clearly visible when his teammates squander possession shortly after. 

Riise keeps looking for ways to get forward late in the match, switching between the outside flank and a slightly more central position.

Finally, when Roma regains possession in a dangerous spot and a cross is served into the box, Riise has already lost his marker from his position out wide. The header is a simple one, but the product of his aggressive movements and tendency to gamble going forward.

Where the worry with Riise will be is in his defensive play and propensity to make serious gaffes. 

Going through multiple highlight packages, it was refreshing, at first, to see Riise rarely at fault for goals surrendered by Roma over the last few seasons. That held true until I began taking a look at some of Roma's battles against more prestigious opponents.

Few Liverpool supporters will ever forget the disastrous own goal Riise headed into his own net against Chelsea in the 2008 Champions League semi-finals. The goal highlighted a serious dip in form that Riise suffered throughout much of his final season in Merseyside.

Though Riise's fortunes took a significant upturn in the Serie A, that didn't mean he was immune to being exploited by dangerous wide players (0:53)...

....or to the occasional gaffe (0:47).

Still, Riise's time in Italy was positive. Most attacks against Roma were seemingly orchestrated on the flank opposite of Riise, perhaps a testament to him being the less exploitable of Roma's outside backs, a positive for a player so relentless in attack.

Though not the most prestigious of accolades, the always enlightening Zonal Marking named the Riise to their 2009-10 European Team of the Season alongside defensive standouts such as Gerard Pique, Lucio and Dani Alves.

Many thought Riise's career as a top-level player was over when he was forced out of Anfield by Rafael Benitez, but this season's form has shown he still has a few years left in him yet. Perhaps the key to his rejuvenation as a player was finding a club that suits his playing style. At Roma he does not merely have a license to get forward, he has strict instructions to get forward - with their left-sided attacking width coming from Mirko Vucinic, their main striker, Riise overlapping is important to allow Vucinic to cut in and offer a goal threat. He has made one or two mistakes when defending at the far post, but has made up for them with some crucial goals, such as against Juventus.

With Jol affording Riise the opportunity to play in the same style as he did in Roma, it's hard not to be excited about Fulham's prospects out wide this season.

Indeed, Riise, it's fairly safe to say, is the most talented left back to suit up for Fulham in a long time, perhaps ever. A gaffe or two may be expected from him, but the rare slip up should be of little concern in the long run and the attacking quality provided by the Norwegian international should far outweigh any perceived faults to his defensive game.

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