Freddie in the RedEye

Ljungberg graces cover of Chicago newspaper

Unless you're European, a soccer buff or a fan of Calvin Klein underwear ads, you might have no clue who Freddie Ljungberg is. To most of the rest of the world, though, the Swedish footballer is one of Chicago's most famous athletes.

Ljungberg, 33, is quiet and friendly. But don't expect a flashy, entourage-sporting jock who'll make noise in the club scene.

"I can say, I'm quite a shy person," Ljungberg admits, resting one arm over a folding chair at Toyota Park, where he now plays for the Chicago Fire. It's a blockbuster signing for the team, currently on the cusp of making the playoffs.

Ljungberg's $1.3 million annual salary makes him--along with teammate Nery Castillo--one of the highest-paid players in Major League Soccer, and one of only eight who make more than $1 million a year. But the midfielder is used to earning his keep.

Ljungberg, a former Calvin Klein model, must have felt something like a god back in England, where he played for Arsenal--one of the most high-profile teams in the English Premier League. Ljungberg not only had a blisteringly prosperous nine years with the club, but he won Sweden's top footballing honors, the Guldbollen, twice. After a year with West Ham United, he moved to the MLS expansion team Seattle Sounders last year and made the move to Chicago just last month.

It's been a cultural adjustment. In the U.S., Ljungberg says, "you get recognized and people talk to you, but it's not the same. Soccer, or, football, is religion back home."

 

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