As I sat down with Freddie Ljungberg this week for the first time since he joined the Fire, I wasn’t sure what to expect from him. Last weekend’s events felt like a whirlwind – they all happened so fast. From his trade, to training with the team the next day in Los Angeles, to his entrance into the match in the 58th minute – it all seemed surreal to see the Arsenal legend donning red again, this time in a Fire kit.
It’s the sort of feeling you initially get when you begin talking to high profile people. At my senior age of 25, I had to gather my bearings and remain calm in an effort to avoid being star struck as we spoke in the Fire Players Lounge Thursday afternoon.
I started off with a question to level the playing field, as we both have an apparent love of hockey… (I knew this already – he’s Swedish – all Swedes love hockey!)
Freddie Ljungberg: Of course I played hockey when I was young – I love hockey. In Seattle I had to drive four-and-a-half hours to Vancouver to see some games – here hopefully it’ll be a bit easier. I just love the game – in Sweden soccer and hockey are the big sports.
See I told you…
I decided to push him a little more with my next
question, “So Freddie, who has been your favorite NHL team over the years?”
FL: When I was maybe a year old, I had relatives in Canada that gave me a Toronto Maple Leafs one-piece outfit – supporting Toronto kind of runs in my family.
I feel you Blackhawks fans, not the exact answer you wanted to hear from the Fire’s new DP…Just read more…
FL: Also my good friend Mats Sundin played there and was the captain there for a long time, so I supported them a bit.
A bit! See he doesn’t love them! He had a friend that played there, albeit Mats Sundin, and a one-piece as a child… Devotion can be diverted. It gets better…
FL: Now I’m in Chicago, I need to support the Blackhawks.
Zing! As soon as he said this, “Chelsea Dagger” began to play on a loop in my head. With all the goodwill Freddie just got with the city of Chicago, I thought I’d go a little further and ask what about living in the Windy City he’s looking forward to…
FL: What I’ve heard – a lot of people have said it’s similar to New York, a lot of others say it’s probably the nicest city in America. Obviously I’m not from here – I tried to ask around to find out what the city was like. I’m hoping it’s similar to London – it probably is. I’m looking forward to going and seeing a lot of sport, eat in some nice restaurants and just go enjoy the city. What I’ve seen so far it’s an extremely beautiful city and I love the water so I’ll probably be out on Lake Michigan a bit.
Mad respect to him for not giving generic answers like “The Willis Tower” or “The Bean” – he does know about Lake Michigan though…
Enough about this city though, I thought it time to move on to soccer-related matters… Freddie, what do you remember of your new teammates Brian McBride and Collins John from your shared time in the English Premier League?
FL: At Arsenal we always liked to play against Fulham – we usually played really well – usually won, but I always liked the way they played, the games were good. Brian was and still is just an amazing aerial player, he was always quite a handful. I remember we’d be pressing Fulham and they’d hit it up to him a lot. He’s very strong and is a very useful piece to a team. The same with Collins, I played more against Brian than him but it’s the same thing – he’s strong, he can hold up the ball. I’m looking forward to working with both guys – they’re great players.
Good answer…speaking of Arsenal, could you talk a little bit about the “Invincibles” team of 2003-04? SIDEBAR: The 2003-04 Arsenal team won the Premiership, going undefeated in the process and henceforth are called "The Arsenal Invincibles".
FL: We had a great team,
great players. Everybody believed in playing football the same way: Keep the
ball on the floor and make the opponents run. I think someone asked Arsene
[Wenger] at one point that season, who’s your real captain? He responded, “I
have 11 captains on the field, everybody knows exactly what they’re doing.” We
all had a winning mentality. That was the important thing.
We had a teammate once during that season -- I can’t remember who it was – but we were playing away at Liverpool. His wife hadn’t seen the game called him afterwards and asked, “What was the score?” He responded, “Oh we lost babe.” She said, “I’m so sorry.”
Then he started laughing and said, “Babe, we do not lose.”
That was kind of the mentality of the team – wherever we played we were not going to lose. It’s kind of nice to have that in the team, just knowing you’re going to win the games.
Finally, what pre-game interview in the new world of multiple MLS Designated Players would be complete if I didn’t ask you about facing your former Arsenal teammate, Thierry Henry when the Fire welcome the Red Bulls to Toyota Park Sunday night? (For the TV ratings: LIVE ON ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes!)
FL: Thierry’s a great friend of mine, we played together at Arsenal for a long time – I think we arrive around the same time as well. It’s going to be a little bit sad to play against him but also nice to see him. We’re going to have to try and forget about our friendship for 90 minutes – but he’s a great man and a great player.
Looking forward to that handshake Sunday night… Thanks Freddie!