“We love you Freddie, because you’ve got red/no hair, we love you Freddie because you’re everywhere, we love you Freddie because you’re Arsenal through and through.”
The date was 4th May 2002, a young Robert Tonkinson sat in his living room, in fact he was eight at the time casually watching that year’s FA Cup Final, which was peculiarly at that time placed before the end of the season. Devoid of football mostly and the knowledge that came with it. I’d been to a few Wolves games here or there, even been playing FIFA 2002 for a few months but had never really taken to Football at that point. Until one spikey, red-haired midfielder changed everything. As he jolted passed John Terry leaving him to fall flat on his face, I knew there was something about this player and this team that was different to all the others, these were the best. As he finished the game with a curling shot into the top corner, I knew that this was the team to support.
Freddie Ljungberg (with a bit of influence from my Uncle’s VHS collection) made me a Gooner.
The second half of that season belonged to Freddie Ljungberg, his goals made sure the team overtook all challengers and helped ensure we’d finish as Champions. It was the best spell of Ljungberg’s career in between two injuries. In fact Ljungberg had quite the injury problems, he never made thirty eight league games in a season for Arsenal and only twice made thirty. However, when he did player, his influence was always apparent in the red and white. His goals in the latter end of the 2001-02 were so crucial, especially in the big games that if he’d been able to do it throughout the whole of the season he would have pushed team-mate Robert Pires hard for Football Writer’s Player of the Year that season, although he was voted Barclaycard’s MVP Player of the Year in 2002.
He was no stranger to awards or praise, making the Premiership Overseas Team of the Decade in 2002 to mark the Premiership’s tenth season, although David Beckham was selected for the Overall Team of the Decade. Alongside his individual awards, Ljungberg won two Premiership titles and three FA Cups at Arsenal and Allsvenskan in 1997 at Halmstad. Ljungberg also played a part and in the final of Arsenal’s unsuccessful pursuit of the UEFA Champions League where they lost in the final to FC Barcelona.
However, it will most likely be Ljungberg’s off-field exploits he may be best known for, a Calvin Klein model throughout his footballing career and voted as one of the best dressed and lusted after athletes in the world also, Ljungberg’s flamboyant nature made him quite the sex symbol for females around the world.
He would remain with Arsenal for the 2006-07 season but didn’t score a league goal again and was reduced to only two goals overall, completing his tally of seventy-one goals for the club, quite the achievement for a midfielder, before being replaced by Alexander Hleb.
Ljungberg’s career never quite reached the heights of his spell at Arsenal, he played twenty-six games for West Ham in the 2007-08 season before moving to America at the age of thirty-one with Seattle Sounders and later Chicago Fire. He played seven games for Glasgow Celtic and eight for Shimizu S-Pulse but didn’t score in either spell in Scotland or Japan.
Ljungberg had been out of contract for some time, leaving Japan in February 2012 and has decided to hang up his boots at the age of thirty-five after claiming Football was no longer fun anymore. Undoubtedly one of the best signings Arsene Wenger and Arsenal have made and one of the best midfield talents the Premiership has seen, Ljungberg was a fine talent who unfortunately was plagued with injury most seasons. In fact, there was even cancer scares one season but fortunately it turned out to be blood poisoning from Ljungberg’s many tattoos. He also suffered many migraines in his later career, one costing the MLS All-Stars after being unable to clearly see against Everton and missing a crucial penalty after miscommunication between coach and Ljungberg.
Still despite all this, Ljungberg is a player synonymous with Arsenal fans and with the club’s most successful spell in history, there’s no doubt he’s “Arsenal through and through” as the song goes, he even scored his first goal against Manchester United a feat he seemed to repeat nearly every season. Despite all his injury troubles, he was a player who played with the Arsenal spirit shown by all players in that era, he never gave in or looked tired, Freddie just ran further and worked harder. All the best to the my childhood hero, Freddie Ljungberg.