Hege Riise, once hailed as "the woman with six pairs of eyes" for her uncanny ability to read the play and dictate midfield strategy, made the most of her outstanding talents to end up as one of the most successful players in women’s footballing history. In a glittering career with Norway, the 41-year-old’s honours include the FIFA Women’s World Cup™, the UEFA Women's EURO and an Olympic gold medal.
Riise was a midfielder who set standards. "It's almost as if the game’s taking place in slow motion, so before the ball even comes to me, I can see how the move’s going to unfold,” the normally shy and retiring Riise said of her exceptional vision. "I’m not especially quick, so I have to think faster than the rest. That's one of my strengths. I see things coming early and take my decisions based on that."
Clever, flexible and creative
Former Carolina Courage boss Marcia McDermott was a huge fan of her team’s superstar: "Hege is so good that every opposing team tries to take her out of the game – and they always fail. If you try and man-mark her, she literally floats away from her marker and gets on the ball. She’s clever, flexible and creative." It may be justifiably claimed that Riise was the first true playmaker in the women’s game.
Born in Lorenskog on the outskirts of Oslo, Riise initially spent her leisure time on skiing and handball, but football was soon to become her sole sporting pursuit. The lack of a girls’ or women’s team in Lorenskog meant she played before and after school with the local lads, this from the tender age of six. "I was the only girl on the team, so I had to learn to be creative with the ball. I really enjoyed it, but to keep up with the boys I had to become steadily stronger and quicker."
Triumphs and records
Remarkably, the future star was in her late teens before she found out Norway actually had a women’s national team. Riise was 20 when she made her international debut, an event which ushered in Norway’s rise to the top of the global game. "My career was like a good red wine,” Riise reflects nowadays, "it kept on improving with age."
The midfielder led Norway to UEFA Women’s EURO glory in 1993, and topped that achievement two years later when she laid hands on the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Riise came away from the global showdown in Sweden with the adidas Golden Ball as Player of the Tournament, but it was by no means her last triumph on the international stage, as the Norwegians went on to claim gold in the Women's Olympic Football Tournament at the 2000 Games in Sydney. Riise finally called time on her international career in September 2004 with 58 goals to her name in 188 appearances.
New targets as coach
Her club career contained numerous highlights as well, as she won silverware on three continents. On home soil, Riise was a cup winner with Setskog-Holand (1992) and Asker FK (2000). A league title and two cup triumphs sprang from her time with Nikko Securities in Japan (1996 and 1997). She then led Carolina Courage to WUSA Founders Cup glory in the USA (2002).
After finally hanging up her boots in 2006, Riise set about gaining initial experience of coaching. She is currently assistant coach to Even Pellerud with Norway's national team. Fans and experts unanimously agree that the current women’s footballing generation can only benefit from Riise’s prodigious understanding of the game and wealth of experience.