In 'Defining Moments', former Arsenal stars select the situations that defined their career with the Gunners.
Freddie Ljungberg is next to recall his favourite memories.
AT THE CAR WASH
Arsenal had been watching me for around a year. This was a time when I played well for Sweden in a win over England – that speeded things up.
On the Monday I was due to meet with Arsenal. On Tuesday the Italian champions. On Wednesday the Spanish champions. I had to decide what was right.
So I met Arsenal and had a personal meeting with Arsène Wenger. We talked football. Not money. I don’t even remember my salary, if I’m honest. It was just about the football. It made the decision for me. I only had five days before my debut against Manchester United.
I’m a pretty laid back guy but I have to be honest, that week I was so nervous. I was literally shaking. I was named as a substitute and after about 20 minutes the fans started singing my name. I thought “Oh God, please no” because I was so nervous.
There was real pressure. Fortunately I came on and I scored. But the real thing that I can reveal now is that my parents and brother could not come to the game. But they were as nervous as me – so nervous, in fact, that they could not even watch the game.
So they went out on to the drive – and washed the car!
This is absolutely true. Apparently when I scored one of their neighbours ran out oftheir house screaming at my parents: “Freddie’s scored!”
WE LOVE YOU FREDDIE, BECAUSE YOU'VE GOT RED HAIR...
I had a great connection with the Arsenal fans. On the way to the FA Cup final in Cardiff in 2002 I fell asleep on the coach (as I said, I’m normally laid back) and I remember some of the guys waking me up as we arrived near the Millennium Stadium.
“Freddie, look at this,” one of them said, tapping on the window. It was incredible. Arsenal fans, young and old, all had red hair – just like me. I remember that moment vividly. That is a memory, a moment, that I had never experienced before and never experienced since. I even remember at the parade in Islington after the game when a police officer took his helmet off – and had a red mohawk!
What can I say? It’s an honour.
As for the game, well. I picked up the ball on the halfway line, had a little tussle withJohn Terry, who kind of fell over, and then I curled the ball into the top corner. What I remember about that goal was Lee Dixon, who was warming up behind the goal, wheeling away in celebration before the ball hit the back of the net.
It curled out of the post and back in before hitting the net and Lee saw it was going in before anyone else because of where he was stood. I had scored in the previous year’s final and had done it again.
I had one beer after the game, that was all, as we had another big game the following week at Old Trafford. We won the game, won the league, and won the ‘double’. We had wanted to do it so badly for the fans. It was a very special week.
PARIS IN THE SPRING
I play to win trophies so when I look back on the Invincibles season, at the time it wasa great feeling and everything, but going unbeaten did not really register. It is only now, many years later, that is seems more special. However, for me, losing the Champions League final to Barcelona in 2006 remains the worst moment of my playing career. Not my life, as I have had close family and friends die, but in regards to my career as a footballer, this was the lowest point.
The first thing to say is that I went into that game 100 per cent sure we were going to win it. I knew we could attack them, I knew I could beat their players. Unfortunately Jens Lehmann got sent off and it became a very tough game. That said, we were leading 1-0 and had really good chances to put the game to bed.
As I say, I was confident that we could beat Barcelona and we really could have done. But we could not get that second goal and then Barcelona got two goals in the last 12 minutes. It was really bad for us. The one thing that great Arsenal team did not win was the Champions League – and we could have. It is so disappointing as that team was capable of doing it. But we came up short and even though we played very well in Paris, the scoreline was 2-1 to Barcelona. That is all that matters.
BACK TO ARSENAL
I’ve been back here for four or five years as a coach and ambassador with the younger players. It is a great honour for me. I feel I have grown as a human being. I have travelled the world in my role, meeting politicians and ambassadors. In Japan I have learned how deep you should bow to people. These are small things, but important things. It has been amazing. So has my time as a coach. I love the club and it has been a new thing for me. Some people nudged me about taking up coaching.
I spoke with Arsène Wenger. I also spoke with my old national team coach. They felt I had the capability to do it. But they also said I really must want to do it, because it’s very hard work. This, I have learned, is very true. They had belief in me, which was important and pushed me even more to do it. I have to say I’m loving it, I really am. What has been very important to me is the work with the Arsenal Foundation. The charitable work this club does is so important to so many people. The ethos is to help people, regardless of who they are, and where they are from.
The Legends game earlier this season was a lovely thing to be a part of. And it also highlighted the Foundation,which was what we were all there for. I have been to some areas of Islington and elsewhere where people live and breathe Arsenal Football Club. But they don’t have much, certainly they are not privileged. I have seen remarkable work teaching people to become leaders and role models within communities, to help younger people try and do the right things, and to try and make the most of themselves and their lives. And it is not just in this country. I‘ve been to Africa and seen great work there too.
Stuart MacFarlane, the club photographer, told me how he did some volunteer work in a shanty town in Johannesburg and taught photography. Off the back of that, one of the guys from that shanty town is now the lead photographer at the Johannesburg Post. That is a wonderful thing.
Stuart showed some real humanity to do that. We do stuff with football in Africa to raise awareness of AIDS too. There is so much. When you play, you don’t really get the opportunity to spend time helping in this kind of way. But now I have retired as a player I have done and it is so rewarding.
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