Riise: ‘Chennaiyin FC will be tough to beat this year’

In an interview with Sportstar, the left-back insisted that he enjoyed the pressure of being the marquee player. "One thing I do see is that as a marquee player, I get to use my experience and pass it on to the other players in the squad," he said.

John Arne Riise ISL Chennaiyin FC

Former Liverpool player John Arne Riise is Chennaiyin FC's marquee player this season.   -  R. Ragu

John Arne Riise has come back to the Indian Super League, this time donning the blue of Chennaiyin FC. With the club unable to retain Elano Blumer and Stiven Mendoza this season, the Norwegian Liverpool great is the reigning champion's marquee signing. In an interview with Sportstar, the left-back insisted that he enjoyed the pressure of being the marquee player.

Excerpts:

You are the marquee signing for Chennaiyin FC. Any extra pressure on you?

I like pressure, it brings the best out of me. But being a marquee player doesn’t change me as a person. I have the same role as everybody else in the team, but obviously I have to do more media and PR stuff. On the pitch, and in training, I do the same things as everybody else.

> John Arne Riise: I like the pressure

One thing I do see is that as a marquee player, I get to use my experience and pass it on to the other players in the squad. I’ve played for big teams for big managers, so I can help the younger players and use my experience to make them better. I don’t see it as more pressure, just that I have more responsibility.

> 'Elano is a legend'

Chennaiyin probably has the best back four this season. Do you think defence will play a key role in the team retaining the title?

For any team, a strong defence is key. Not only the four defenders, but also the midfielders and the strikers are key to any team. Yes, our defensive structure is very important for us if we want to win the title again this year. We’ve worked a lot on being compact at the back and Mendy and I are a good pair.

Our left-right combination (Riise is left footed, Mendy is right) is the ideal one for the team. But we also have other defenders who can do the job. This squad is very good and we can change the combination and still be good.

A tough 2-2 draw against ATK. How do you feel after the result?

We are happy with the one point from the first game, away from home. We knew ATK would be raring to go since we beat them last year in the semifinal. It is always hard, because we never know where we really stand. We are disappointed in losing the three points so late in the game.

Had we conceded the equaliser much earlier, we would have accepted it. But, when you’re winning 2-1 until the 86th minute and then you concede a penalty, it was a big disappointment.

After the game, at the hotel, when we had time to think, we realized one point isn’t too bad at the start of the season. We were happy with the performance, especially in the second half, as we controlled the game. We had a lot of positives, we feel very good as a team.

Coach Materazzi recently said Chennaiyin will defend its title? Is that your realistic target?

Yes. If he said otherwise, it wouldn’t sound good, would it?! Everybody wants to win and the motivation of winning back-to-back titles will drive us towards that goal. We are a team that everybody wants to beat, which is normal. But we believe we are strong enough to retain the title.

You have played under two defenders-turned-managers. The difference?

They are both offensive minded! (laughs) They might be defenders during their playing days but as coaches they like to attack. Roberto Carlos is a more relaxed coach. He wants his teams to play in a more attacking manner, while Marco Materazzi wants his whole team to be compact. During our pre-season, we worked really hard in keeping possession.

You are part of the spine of the club with Raphael Augusto in midfield and Jeje Lalpekhula at the front.

Like you say, we like to have a strong centre line. We like to be strong in the middle with the two centre backs, the midfielders and strikers. You could see that in the first game also; we were strong there. So, yeah I feel we will be tough to beat this year.

I saw a video of your reaction after you sipped beer for the first time. Is it true you’ve never had beer?!

Yes, that was my first sip. My reaction to the video…. When I tasted it, it was disgusting. I have no idea what brand of beer it was. Someone gave it to me at the party and they filmed my reaction.

Is that your secret to fitness? Not having beer?

I train at the gym twice a day. When I came here last year, there were hardly any Indian players who worked on their bodies. Now, whenever I hit the gym I see at least 10 Indian players alongside.

As a Liverpool fan, what are your thoughts on this season? Could this be the year your team finally wins the Premier League?

Like I told you last year, this season could be too early for Klopp to deliver the title. When I first saw the opening fixtures’ list, my first reaction was, ‘this could be tough’. We played the big teams and surprisingly did really well. But I still feel it’s too soon to win the title this year. However, not playing an European competition might work in Liverpool’s favour. I still do feel Manchester City will take it this season.