Meet Freddie Ljungberg, Arsenal Interim Manager
Karl Fredrik “Freddie” Ljungberg (Swedish pronunciation: [¹freːdrɪk ²jɵŋːbærj]; born 16 April 1977) is a Swedish former footballer who played as a winger and is the current head coach at Arsenal.
He began his career at Halmstad and went on to spend most of his career at Arsenal, where he won honours including two Premier League titles and three FA Cups, scoring in two finals including the victory in 2002. After leaving Arsenal in 2007, he had short spells at a number of clubs in England, Scotland, the United States, Japan and India. An international for a full decade, Ljungberg earned 75 caps and represented Sweden at Euro 2000, Euro 2004 and Euro 2008, as well as at the 2002 and 2006 FIFA World Cups. He was captain of the Swedish national team from 2006 until he announced his international retirement after UEFA Euro 2008.
Ljungberg was a model for Calvin Klein underwear until 2007. He previously represented brands such as Nike, Procter & Gamble, L’Oreal, Puma, Beats, ESPN and Pepsi.
Ljungberg was born on 16 April 1977 in Vittsjö, Sweden to parents Roy Alve Erling Ljungberg, a civil engineer and owner of a construction and consultant business, and Elisabeth Bodil Ljungberg, a Swedish Labor Department worker.On 12 September 1984, the Ljungbergs had another son, Karl Oskar Filip. In 1982, the Ljungberg family left Vittsjö and moved to Halmstad. At first, the tenacious 5-year old would not have any part of moving. He argued with his parents that he did not want to live in Halmstad. His parents relented and took him to Halmstads BK where he played on the youth team under Olle Eriksson.
From the time he was 5–14, Ljungberg was coached by Eriksson. Eriksson’s impression of the youngster was that he was remarkably talented for his age and that he was considerate of other players, noting that Ljungberg would pass the ball to his friends so that they would have a chance to score. Ljungberg credits Eriksson for having a profound effect on his career as well as Brazilian football player, Sócrates. Also in his youth, he enjoyed playing ice hockey and developed a talent for handball; he was eventually called up to the under-15 national handball team but decided to focus his attentions on football.
Ljungberg did well in academic subjects as well as sports. When he finished 9th grade his marks averaged 4.1 on the 5-point scale. At 18, Ljungberg decided to attend university to study information technology and economics but struggled to balance the hectic academic timetable with the physically demanding commitments of professional football. Eventually, he quit university to concentrate on his football career
In 1989, at the age of 12, Ljungberg had convinced Halmstads BK to move him from p12 to p14 which was against Halmstad’s policies at the time. At age 14, Ljungberg joined the junior team under coach Robert Nordström. His perseverance paid off because three years later he was moved up to the senior team.
Ljungberg made his senior debut on 23 October 1994 in the Allsvenskan against AIK. In 1995, Ljungberg played 31 games in which he scored his first goal as a professional player. That same year Halmstad won the Swedish Cup. In 1997, Halmstad won the Allsvenskan with Ljungberg scoring and setting up goals that season for the club despite picking up injuries. During his time with Halmstad, he went on to make 139 appearances and score 16 goals for the club. After his winning of several trophies in his years with Halmstad, Ljungberg’s star was on the rise with interest from Barcelona, Chelsea, Aston Villa, Parma and Arsenal.
Ljungberg, second from left, in a match between Arsenal and Middlesbrough, September 2006
Ljungberg was signed by Arsenal in 1998 for £3 million. Arsenal scouts watched him for over a year and Arsenal’s manager, Arsène Wenger, took the unusual step of authorising the signing after watching Ljungberg play for Sweden in their victory against England on television, without seeing him play live. Seeing Ljungberg’s performance against England only confirmed to Wenger that Ljungberg could cope against English opponents, and he was signed shortly after. Ljungberg proved himself without difficulty and scored on his debut on 20 September after coming on as a substitute against rival club Manchester United, the match ending 3–0.
Some of Ljungberg’s best form came in the second half of the 2001–02 season, when Arsenal won their second Premier League and FA Cup double. Following a knee injury to Robert Pires, Ljungberg scored in most of Arsenal’s remaining games, including a stunning finish for Arsenal’s second goal in the 2–0 FA Cup Final win over Chelsea. Ljungberg had scored many important and vital goals for Arsenal throughout the season. He scored an equaliser against Manchester United, in a game where Arsenal went on to win 3–1. He was instrumental in Arsenal’s 2–1 win against Liverpool at Anfield where he won a penalty which Thierry Henry scored and then he slotted in a sweet finish from a Robert Pires cross. He scored a nearly identical goal again against Liverpool at Highbury three weeks later, where the matched ended up being a 1–1 draw. Ljungberg ended the 2001–02 season scoring 17 goals in all competitions.
Ljungberg was the first player to score a goal at an FA Cup final outside England when Arsenal lost against Liverpool in 2001 at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. A year later, against Chelsea, he became the first player in 40 years to score in consecutive FA Cup Finals. He also scored a penalty in the shootout in Arsenal’s 2005 FA Cup Final victory over Manchester United.
He was most comfortable on either wing in midfield, though he could play centrally in a 4–5–1 formation or as a second striker. Ljungberg became a regular in Arsenal’s starting lineup following the departure of Emmanuel Petit and Marc Overmars in the summer of 2000. For several seasons he played a major role for the club including being a member of the unbeaten 49-game run for Arsenal. He had to fight with constant injury problems and occasionally severe bouts with migraines; in 2005 a persistent hip injury led to fears he may have contracted cancer, which was unfounded. It transpired that he was suffering from blood poisoning caused by his large tattoos.
Despite a persistent ankle injury, Ljungberg played for Arsenal in the 2–1 defeat by Barcelona in the Champions League Final in Paris on 17 May 2006.
It was speculated in January 2007 that Ljungberg was being forced to leave Arsenal, after bosses became tired of a run of injuries restricting his play. “Ljungberg still has a lot to offer to Arsenal,” Arsène Wenger said, on 13 January 2007, at a Blackburn Rovers pre-match press conference, stressing the fact that Ljungberg will stay at Arsenal until the end of his contract in 2009.
Ljungberg came back after a long injury in an FA Cup match against Bolton Wanderers, scoring a goal thirteen minutes before the end of extra time, earning Arsenal a place in the fifth-round tie of the FA Cup against Blackburn Rovers.
In 2008, Ljungberg placed 11th in Arsenal.com’s Gunners’ Greatest 50 Players.
West Ham United
On 23 July 2007, after nine years at Arsenal, Ljungberg joined London rivals West Ham United on a four-year contract. Ljungberg made his West Ham United debut on the opening day of the 2007/08 Premier League season, in West Ham’s 0–2 home defeat by Manchester City on 11 August, a game in which he was also captain. After seven months at the club, Ljungberg finally scored his first goal for West Ham in the home match against Birmingham City on 9 February 2008, putting West Ham up 1–0, with the game finishing 1–1. Ljungberg also scored away at Sunderland a month later in a 1–2 defeat, being his final goal for the club.
In his last game of the season, Newcastle United defender Steven Taylor accidentally landed on top of him while trying to jump over him, breaking his ribs. The injury sidelined Ljungberg for the rest of the season. In May, it was reported that Ljungberg was offered £3m to tear up his contract. This was quickly dismissed by both Ljungberg’s agents, Claes Elefalk and Scott Duxbury, West Ham’s chief executive.
In June 2008, Ljungberg retired from the Swedish National team stating, “The simple fact is the physical strain of playing on the national team and in club football for such a long time has finally taken its toll. And that is why I have decided to concentrate on playing for West Ham United and that is where my focus will be.”
Following the start of training camp, Ljungberg was nowhere to be seen. Many speculated a transfer was in the works despite Elefalk’s claims that Ljungberg was to return. Days later, Ljungberg agreed to terminate his contract only after one year into the four-year deal for a sum of £6 million. Ljungberg stated afterwards, “I gave my all at West Ham and enjoyed my time there but the decision is the best for the both of us. Now, I will take my time to consider my football future.”
After Ljungberg’s West Ham exit, fans and sports pundits alike speculated about Ljungberg’s future. On 8 August, Ljungberg was seen in Los Angeles fueling rumours of a move to LA Galaxy which was quickly dismissed. In actuality, Ljungberg went to Los Angeles to get a tattoo done by renowned tattoo artist Mister Cartoon. While he was in Los Angeles, Claes Elefalk urged Ljungberg to meet with Joe Roth, a Hollywood producer and majority stakeholder in the MLS Expansion Team Seattle Sounders. Ljungberg secretly met with Roth but did not want to make any rash decisions. At the same time, there were rumours of four Italian clubs being interested in Ljungberg including Lazio, Milan, Roma, and Fiorentina. By the end of August, Ljungberg was linked to Portsmouth. On 28 August, Ljungberg’s agent told the Swedish press that Ljungberg was continuing to train at his old football club Halmstads BK but was unsure of his football future. At the end of the transfer window, Ljungberg was linked to AS Monaco. When Ljungberg declined to join Monaco after the transfer window closed, many believed Ljungberg was finished with football.
In early September, Ljungberg was seen in New York City during New York Fashion Week. At this time, the Daily Star reported that Ljungberg was looking to become a furniture designer. Shortly after, Ljungberg was seen in London with Natalie Imbruglia.
Seattle Sounders FC
On 17 October 2008, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that Ljungberg might be a part of the new Major League Soccer franchise Seattle Sounders FC. On 28 October 2008, Seattle Sounders officially announced they had signed Ljungberg as their Designated Player for the 2009 season. The terms of his contract saw Ljungberg earn $10 million over two seasons with the Sounders. Much like the contract of David Beckham and as is the norm for professional sports stars in the US, Ljungberg’s contract assured that he kept all of the money derived from his private endorsements. Because of this, Grahame L. Jones of the Los Angeles Times was quick to compare Ljungberg with Beckham. Alexi Lalas stated, “Eddie Vedder, I think, would have a better chance of making an impact at Seattle than Freddie Ljungberg”. However, after the 2009 regular season, Lalas acknowledged his initial scepticism but admitted he had changed his mind. “For me, he’s the best DP signing, because of the way he plays in MLS.”
In December 2008, it was announced that Ljungberg would undergo surgery to repair a persistent hip injury that has plagued him throughout his later career. Surgeons repaired a slightly torn hip labrum and shaved a small amount of bone where the hip meets the femur to prevent future injury. The Seattle Times reported that Ljungberg was expected to miss 10–12 weeks of training and possibly be sidelined for the team’s inaugural game, but he recovered from his hip injury sooner than expected. Although Ljungberg did not take part of Seattle’s preseason in Argentina, he did, however, do light training with IS Halmia.
Once the Sounders returned to Seattle, Ljungberg joined in training. Despite his speedy recovery, Ljungberg did not participate in the inaugural game against New York Red Bulls. He made his debut one week later on 28 March 2009, coming on as a 61st-minute substitute in a 2–0 victory over Real Salt Lake. The following week he made his first start on 4 April 2009 against Toronto FC where he also scored his first MLS goal. Ljungberg played his first full game against Chivas USA in Los Angeles in which they lost 2–0. While some noted that Fredy Montero and Ljungberg were not cohesive on the pitch due to Ljungberg’s absence in the preseason and few practices with one other, coach Sigi Schmid answered, “That’s just something that takes some time. But they’re both quality players and it will get sorted out I think a lot sooner than later.”
Ljungberg missed two games against FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids due to a migraine attack. He quickly recovered to play against Chivas USA. On 30 May 2009, the Sounders drew their fifth match in a row, this time against the Columbus Crew, after Ljungberg missed a penalty kick in the 31st minute. Ljungberg scored his second goal for the season against the San Jose Earthquakes on 13 June 2009 as a result of beating Joe Cannon to the ball, lofting it over him and into the centre of the net. In the 59th minute, Ljungberg’s corner kick set up Fredy Montero’s goal which led the Sounders to a 2–0 victory. After playing DC United, Ljungberg suffered from some hamstring tightness. Ljungberg did suit up for the New York Red Bull game on 20 June 2009, but he did not play as a result of the injury. On 28 June, Ljungberg assisted Montero’s 23rd-minute goal against the Colorado Rapids. He was subbed out toward the end of the game, in which he received a standing ovation. Ljungberg sat out for the US Open Cup game against the USL Portland Timbers and focused on training during the 4-week vacation in July. Following the brief holiday vacation, Seattle defeated Houston Dynamo, a game in which Ljungberg was heavily targeted and fouled. Despite this, Ljungberg outmanoeuvred his opponents and assisted a goal to Patrick Ianni. As is so, the Bleacher Report thus dubbed him the man of the match.
During his 2009 season, the Daily Express noted rumours that Ljungberg was poised to return to a European club, but Ljungberg assured fans that he would stay to fulfil his two-year contract. The Swede also gave the insight that he might even extend his contract beyond 2010.
Ljungberg (front, second from left) lining up for Seattle Sounders in August 2009 ahead of a friendly against Barcelona.
In July 2009, Ljungberg was selected for starting MLS’ All-Stars along with teammate Kasey Keller. Selection for the All-Star team is based upon votes from players, coaches, general managers, members of the media and an online fan voting system. Ljungberg received the most votes among fans, a testament to his popularity in the MLS. Ljungberg was also appointed captain of the 2009 MLS All-Star Team in their game versus Everton.
Due to receiving a red card in the previous game, Ljungberg was ineligible to play the next Seattle Sounders game. As a result, All-Star coach Dominic Kinnear played Ljungberg for a full 90 minutes. At the end of the game, Ljungberg started to have impaired vision. When the game went to penalty kicks, he chose to sit it out due to his loss of vision after an on-set migraine. Unfortunately for Ljungberg, the initial five kicks ended in a draw. Kinnear, not fully understanding Ljungberg’s condition, sent him out as the sixth kicker. Ljungberg, unable to see, took a chance and just tapped the ball in the centre of the net. However, Tim Howard caught it, resulting in Everton’s win. Immediately following the game, Ljungberg was removed from the field on a stretcher. Later, Ljungberg told reporters that he ingested trace amount of red wine while in Utah, resulting in his second migraine within months.
Ljungberg went on to win the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup of 2009 with the Seattle Sounders in September of that year.
Ljungberg was traded to Major League Soccer club Chicago Fire on 30 July 2010 in exchange for a second-round selection in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft. He made his team debut as a substitute in the club’s 3–2 victory over the LA Galaxy the following Sunday. Ljungberg’s first start for the Fire came against the New York Red Bulls in a match that featured five designated players. After 15 league appearances, Ljungberg announced that he would be leaving Chicago at the end of the 2010 MLS season.
On 27 December 2010, Ljungberg joined Scottish Premier League club Celtic on a week-long trial. After a successful trial, Ljungberg officially signed a contract with the club on 30 December 2010. Ljungberg made his debut for Celtic away to Berwick Rangers in the Scottish Cup on 9 January 2011, playing over 60 minutes and helping his team to a 2–0 victory.
On 6 September 2011, Ljungberg signed for Japanese club Shimizu S-Pulse. He left the club by mutual consent on 14 February 2012.
Upon his release, Ljungberg was linked to Australian club Central Coast Mariners and South African team, Orlando Pirates. Meanwhile, he became a Premier League ambassador in which he promoted the league. He also participated in charitable events such as Soccer Aid 2012 and McDonald’s Player Escort Program in Kiev.
On 24 August 2012, Ljungberg announced his retirement from football.
Mumbai City FC
On 25 July 2014, Ljungberg announced a comeback to promote the launch of the Indian Super League. On 2 September, he was signed by Mumbai City FC, becoming their marquee signing. Due to injury, he missed their involvement in the league’s opening match, a 3–0 defeat at Atlético de Kolkata on 12 October. Ljungberg’s comeback was cut short due to persistent back problems. After only four games played, he decided to end his contract and return to his home in London.
In 1996, Ljungberg made his Sweden U21 debut. Ljungberg almost did not make it as an international player because Sweden coach Lasse Lagerbäck thought Ljungberg was too short. In Fredrik Ljungberg: Up Close, Lagerbäck stated, “Of course it’s difficult to say at 15 to 16 years of age (whether or not a player has the potential to be an international player). To be honest, I wouldn’t say I thought he would become an international player because he was very very little. In his first match, we played Denmark and he scored twice so he convinced me rather fast that he was a good player even if he was very very small but he was quick.”On 10 November 1996, Ljungberg scored twice in a game against Scotland.
Ljungberg made his senior international debut on 24 January 1998 against the United States in Orlando, losing 0–1. He scored his first national team goal against Denmark in Malmö with a 3–0 victory.
2002 World Cup
During an open team practise before the 2002 World Cup, Ljungberg broke into a fight with teammate Olof Mellberg after a robust tackle from the latter. Ljungberg pushed Mellberg right in front of the world press and Mellberg responded by grabbing at Ljungberg’s jersey top at throat level before the two wrestled on the ground. The two of them were quickly separated by shocked teammates and the team practice was immediately cancelled to deal with the public relations disaster. Within hours, video footage of the fight flooded the media and internet.
Sweden was a part of Group F dubbed ‘Group of Death’ which included Argentina, England, and Nigeria. At the time, Ljungberg was suffering from a hip injury which prevented him from playing in most of the games. However, Ljungberg did muster the strength to play against England on 2 June 2002 and Nigeria on 7 June 2002 despite the pain. After Sweden advanced from group death, the team was defeated by Senegal.
Sweden were one of the 16 teams to qualify for Euro 2004 with host nation of Portugal. In Sweden’s first game on 14 June, Ljungberg scored the opening goal as Sweden beat Bulgaria 5–0. He started the next two matches against Italy and Denmark, which both ended in draws. Sweden along with Italy and Denmark were in a three-way tie for the first spot. However, it was concluded that Italy would not advance due to a goal difference after Sweden and Denmark drew 2–2. Italy disputed the decision saying both Sweden and Denmark fixed the match. UEFA squashed that notion and Sweden moved onto the next round to compete against the Netherlands. The match ended with 0–0 draw in which Ljungberg attempted two shots but failed to score.
2006 World Cup
Ljungberg representing Sweden at the 2006 FIFA World Cup
Prior to the games, the team doctor prohibited Ljungberg from participating in full-blown training between matches to protect his injured foot. His right foot was swollen due to fluid building up inside his ankle joint. Ljungberg sat out the warm-up games against Finland and Chile at Sweden’s base in Bremen. Despite being advised to take time off, Ljungberg insisted on playing in the cup to help Sweden win.
Sweden’s weak start was quickly forgotten after their victory against Paraguay. However, Paraguay almost held out for a scoreless tie until Ljungberg scored in the 89th minute giving Sweden a 1–0 victory. Sweden’s third match within the group was against England, resulting in a 2–2 draw. Despite the draw, Sweden advanced to the next round only to lose against host nation Germany. Ljungberg was named Guldbollen winner for helping Sweden advance to the next round in the World Cup by heading in the game-winning goal against Paraguay. “I am proud and humbled to get this award,” Ljungberg said. “If you look at the football year 2006, it was very eventful. … If I should try to sum it up, the Champions League final left some deep marks. That felt heavy. But for me, the World Cup was the biggest event of the year.”
After the World Cup 2006 finals, Ljungberg became captain of Sweden National Team. He captained the side in 8 of the 9 Euro 2008 qualifiers including games against Latvia, Liechtenstein, Spain, Northern Ireland, and Iceland. In the qualifiers, Ljungberg scored one goal against Liechtenstein on 17 October 2007 and had an assist in the Latvia match four days later. Sweden qualified for the European Championship with 6 wins.
Prior the Euro 2008, Ljungberg fractured his ribs making his appearance in the tournament uncertain. However, Ljungberg was able to participate in the Euro and played the games with a special brace to protect his healing ribs. Ljungberg was able to start in Sweden’s first match against Greece which ended in a 2–0 victory. Sweden’s next match was against one of the favourites, Spain. Sweden were able to contain Spain who struggled from making big advances. However, Sweden lost that match 1–2. At the end of the game, Ljungberg was furious with Dutch referee Pieter Vink and proclaimed, “There was a foul just before the Spanish second goal and it wasn’t given. It was lucky I was asked to do a TV interview straight after we came off otherwise I would have kicked a door in!”
Sweden was unable to compete with the young Russian squad and were defeated 0–2. Despite Sweden’s early dismissal from the tournament, Ljungberg was considered by newspapers in Sweden, France, Italy, Germany and the host nation Austria as being Sweden’s leading player throughout the tournament. On 27 June 2008 Ljungberg announced that he was ending his 10-year career for the national team. The decision came following Sweden’s early exit from Euro 2008. Ljungberg played in 75 internationals for Sweden, scoring 14 goals.
In May 2013 Arsenal announced that club legend Ljungberg would be “renewing his ties with the club” by taking an ambassadorial role with the view of increasing the international awareness of the club. He said that he was “honoured to take on this ambassadorial role”.
On 12 July 2016 it was confirmed that he would be joining Arsenal’s Academy coaching Arsenal’s Under-15s.
After the appointment of Andries Jonker as the new manager for VfL Wolfsburg on February 27, 2017, the club announced later the same day that he would be assisted by Ljungberg and Uwe Speidel. He was at the club for six months before Jonker and his assistants were sacked in September 2017.
Back to Arsenal
On 12 June 2018, Arsenal announced that Ljungberg would return as the U23 coach. On 5 June 2019, Ljungberg was promoted to Arsenal’s first-team coaching set up. On 29 November 2019, Ljungberg was announced as interim head coach following the dismissal of Unai Emery.
Ljungberg’s work as a male model have garnered media attention rivaling that of his football career. In 2003, he signed a contract as an underwear model for Calvin Klein, fronting a worldwide campaign which became one of the company’s most successful ever. However, Ljungberg was upset that, as a result, women persistently groped him in nightclubs.
Ljungberg in a model shoot for a Swedish men’s magazine. Ljungberg’s efforts as a male model have garnered media attention rivalling that of his football career. In 2003, he was contracted as a Calvin Klein underwear model, fronting a worldwide campaign which became one of Calvin Klein’s most successful ever.
Ljungberg was sponsored by sportswear company Nike and appeared in Nike commercials. In a global Nike advertising campaign in the run-up to the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan, he starred in a “Secret Tournament” commercial (branded “Scopion KO”) directed by Terry Gilliam, appearing alongside football players such as Ruud van Nistelrooy, Thierry Henry, Ronaldo, Edgar Davids, Fabio Cannavaro, Francesco Totti, Ronaldinho, Luís Figo and Hidetoshi Nakata, with former player Eric Cantona the tournament “referee”.
Ljungberg, who rarely talks about his personal life in the media, married long-time partner Natalie Foster, whom he met in 2007, on 9 June 2014 at a ceremony in front of the Natural History Museum, London. The daughter of a business executive, Foster is a fan of Arsenal’s local rivals Tottenham Hotspur. They have two children.
While playing in England, Ljungberg became known as “Freddie”, a nickname rarely used in his native Sweden. There he is most commonly referred to by his birthname Fredrik, although teammates in the Swedish national team have sometimes referred to him by the nickname “Ljungan” (Swedish pronunciation: [²jɵŋan]).