The man has two names. He has a rocket throw-in arm. He has spiky blond hair, wears incredibly tight shirts, and can blast a free kick. And he quietly became a regular in the Fulham starting XI with solid performances in a position of major need in the beginning of the season.
Yes, John Arne Riise is my signing of the season. Sure Pavel Pogrebnyak did wonders for the Cottagers, scoring 5 goals in his first 3 matches and filling a desperate need at the #11 position up front. But in my opinion, it’s Riise who’s given the club the most value.
Riise was new manager Martin Jol’s first (second if you count Csaba Somogyi) signing with the club, inking him on a 3-year deal from Roma. The fullback was considered more of a Liverpool outcast than a positive addition to the squad, but he’s proven to be way more than that at Craven Cottage. Few thought of the 31-year old as the answer when Jol made it clear his intent was to make the squad younger, but he’s brought an energy and personality to the locker room few over 30 can contribute. Just look at this picture tweeted after the Liverpool win at Anfield.
With an incredible work rate and a beastly left foot (albeit he hasn’t scored with it yet, he’s clanged the crossbar a number of times and sailed just barely over a number of others), he’s taken Fulham fans by storm, quickly becoming a favorite to those frequenting the Cottage.
Since signing, he’s become the regular option at left back for the Fulham gaffer, and fans have become accustomed to seeing his spiky hair and muscle-tight jerseys both beside Mark Schwarzer at the back, and on the touchline during attacking play.
He’s been involved in lots of action on both ends of the pitch this season. In fact, he and Aaron Hughes are the only Fulham defenders who have at least as many fouls suffered as committed – Riise has 17 committed to 23 suffered, Hughes has 4 fouls committed to 11 fouls suffered – showing how much he’s involved in attacking play as much as defending, and being successful at it.
Riise also statistically compares with some of the best left backs in the league. I pitted him against a player who some consider the best left back in the Premier League and maybe the world, Ashley Cole. Riise has more interceptions per match (1.9) than Cole (1.6), more blocks per match (0.5 to 0.3), and half as many fouls per match (0.4 to 0.8). Cole has Riise beat handily on tackles per match (2.7 to 1.9) but the Norwegian ranks top among Fulham defenders in that category. All these I found on WhoScored.com (the only place I could find this crap, if anyone else has a better source, please by all means post it in the comment section).
Another positive for Riise, despite playing a position that often comes with an occasional pushing of the limits, he’s only been shown 2 yellow cards in 3595 minutes this season, or 1 card every 1797.5 minutes (about 20 matches); a testament to both his fair play and his ability to play his position effectively without finding himself in a position requiring a rash decision.
Riise has flown almost completely under the radar as a new signing. Between becoming an instant regular and fan favourite, and Pogrebnyak making headlines as a January success, Riise has become a transfer afterthought. And it would seem that at the moment, that’s perfectly fine.
With right back such a revolving door at Fulham (Stephen Kelly, Aaron Hughes, Zdenek Grygera, and Chris Baird have all seen time), it’s clear how valuable having a lock at the other fullback position is. Hopefully Riise can defy age and be a veteran leader on this increasingly younger and talent-rich squad.
So who’s your signing of the season? Pogrebnyak? Diarra? You could even make an argument Martin Jol qualifies (if that’s true he certainly has a case as well). Post yours in the comments!
Published with permission from Fulham's Finest.