Even though he was only watching the game on television, Arsène Wenger knew he had witnessed something special.
England had travelled to Solna for a crucial European Championship qualifier against Sweden back in September 1998, but their experienced defenders were being run ragged by a fresh-faced 21-year-old called Freddie Ljungberg.
Sweden would go on to win the match 2-1 but the result didn’t matter to Wenger. The only thing on his mind after watching Ljungberg’s performance was securing the youngster’s signature as soon as possible.
“In this game, it was all his character,” the manager told Arsenal Player. “They played that game in Sweden on a Saturday and then we bought him the next week because I liked what he did, his character.
“He gave Martin Keown a torturous time in that match, took him on and I must say he’s a guy who strikes you straight away when you see him play. I remember I bought him on against Manchester United and he scored. I was thinking that when your guy comes on, you always have a feeling straight away whether it’s his place there.
“Usually we think you have to give them time but with experience, you think that the guys who make it showed you that they had the quality to be there in their first game. Freddie had that, that decisiveness in his mind and that desire to win. He was an exceptional footballer and also an exceptional mind.
“Freddie is a winner and a guy who gives everything to the team. When he didn’t win, he was sick, really sick. I like the quality of his attitude, the quality of his commitment and of course what he has done for our club is absolutely sensational.
“To add to that, I would like to say that it shows you how football moves forward. We bought him for £3m! That kind of quality you got at that time for £3m… I leave you to imagine how much that would cost today!”
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