John Arne Riise maybe entering the twilight of his career but he has been one of the better foreign players during the ongoing season of the Indian Super League (ISL).
Playing for Delhi Dynamos, coached by Roberto Carlos, Riise has been rock-solid, leading the defence with authority and dishing out match-winning performances consistently.
The former Liverpool star spoke exclusively to Sport360 about his Indian summer, his managerial ambitions and the winds of change at Anfield.
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How has the ISL experience been so far?
I am getting used to everything now. I took some time to acclimatise to the heat and humidity, the teammates and their positions, but now I am feeling relaxed and enjoying it.
The toughest thing was dealing with the humidity. I've been to Cyprus and Roma, which were hot. But this is different hot. It's too humid, you sweat a lot.
I just look at the sun and I start sweating. So it took some time to get used to. When I am running in the gym, it's harder to breathe even inside. It took some time to get used to but now I feel good.
What made you choose India?
I am a guy who likes to travel, see new cultures, meet new people and learn new languages. I lived in France and Italy and I learnt those languages.
Delhi wanted to sign me and when I spoke to Prashant Agarwal, who is the franchise president, the whole package looked attractive.
I knew Roberto Carlos was going to be the coach, and he is my idol. He is a left back, offensive and has a left foot. We've got similarities there and he is one player I have always looked up to.
Then I spoke to Prashant about my future. I want to play until I am 40, maybe more, because I still feel strong and fit. I also want to become a coach and manager. So I thought it would be a good idea to spend a couple of seasons here, try being a player-coach and eventually, work towards being a manager for a club or something.
But I also want to help Indian football because I know I have a name – and I know Liverpool has a very big name – in India so people look up to me, Florent Malouda and others.
I know cricket is very big, but football is getting bigger and bigger. People are seeing it on TV, they are coming to the stadium, it's amazing to see such support and I want to be a part of it.
How serious are you about your coaching ambitions?
I have already spoken to the Norwegian federation about this. In January, I am going to take the classes and next June I will start with the A license course and then see how long it takes because I want to play as well.
My first target is to become a player-coach somewhere and then see how it goes further. I am learning a lot from Roberto and hopefully, if he stays here, I can be a part of his future plans as well. I connect well with him and we think the same.
Do you look up to any particular manager, or look for one person in particular to take advice from?
I speak to Rafael Benitez, who is with Real Madrid right now. I keep getting some tips from him regularly and share a good rapport with him because I was with him in Liverpool. We've spent the best nights of our lives together so I connect well with him.
I always like to keep touch with people I work with. Here in Delhi, Roberto is my go-to man if I have something to learn. From a managerial point of view, I would probably go to Benitez because he is the one I am closest to. He even offered me to come and watch how Real Madrid train for 10 days, two weeks.
Do you still closely follow Liverpool and what's your take on the current situation there?
Of course, I still follow Liverpool!
The recent changes are much-needed. I like Brendan Rodgers a lot. I think he is a fantastic person but for some reasons, after they finished second in the Premier League two years, things haven't been going in the right direction. So no matter if you're a good coach or a bad coach, change had to happen.
Where did things go wrong?
I don't know, to be honest. Maybe the players they brought in after Luis Suarez left. He scored 30 goals or something in the League so if you lose this guy then it's a big loss. That's the biggest mistake but he needed to go also. However, they couldn't replace him.
Plus, the players have to perform. If the players are good but don't perform as a team, then you're going nowhere. I am a big fan of Jurgen Klopp. He is so passionate and aggressive and shows happiness and emotions. He demands hard work and I love hard work.
Coming back to your ISL stint, what's your view on the local Indian players?
People have to understand we have different schools of learning. In Europe – in Norway – we start at a very young age so we learn our tactics and such things early.
The first thing I noticed is that the Indian players are a little bit behind tactically. But their eagerness of learning is amazing. I know with time they will learn and get better.
So you've indirectly begun coaching?
I wanted to teach them whatever I could and the difference from the first day in Sweden and now… you cannot recognise the players. They were so shy, they didn't speak and I was always the one who shouts.
So initially they went a bit into the shell, but now they are tougher and confident. They know this is what we need to perform and some players have changed dramatically.
For me, Souvik (Ghosh) – our right back – has been one of the most improved players. He was our centre back but now he plays right back. He has impressed me by taking the information and has learnt a lot.
What's the advice you give these players?
I think it's just important for young players to see what is needed to be successful; to see how much hard work is put in. I am 35, but because I am 35 I need to work harder to keep the same level of fitness. I am in the gym everyday after training. I run, I do strength training, I stretch. It depends on how much work you put into it.
Indian players just need to understand you need to work hard, sacrifice a lot. You need to sleep, rest, eat, train. After training's finished, take another half hour, do some crossing, passing or run a bit.
These small things can change everything. Every body can run or kick the ball long. So during these 3-4 months I hope I can show them what they need to do and how much focus is needed.
How crucial is it for players to play abroad?
India's goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh plays in Norway for Stabaek, who recently qualified for the Europa League. I met him before I came to Delhi and he wished me good luck.
I think it's important for Indian football to get out of the country and show people hard work pays off and it's worth it. Many people have not seen other parts of the world. For example, I had not seen anything here and I was surprised to see some things when I came. It's been a learning experience.
We want Norwegian players to go abroad and play because it helps the Norwegian national team. The same thing applies to India and the rest of the players from Asia. They should go abroad, play for a Norwegian team, English team or wherever and if they do well, it's a good thing for the national team. It's very important and is why I went to Monaco at 17.
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