Interview

'It's been an amazing journey... I'm very proud'

Freddie Ljungberg is leaving the club to pursue new opportunities in the coming season.

Here's what Freddie had to say about the decision:

Freddie, it's the end of one chapter and the start of another one. What's happening and what is next for you?
 
I've been [associated] with the club for 22 years and it's been an amazing journey, and I've learned so much from a lot of different people. But I think that now is the right time for me to step a little bit into the unknown and challenge myself and coach.

You've been an assistant manager, you've led academy sides at various age groups, you were interim head coach last year. What does that next step look like, what is the challenge for you?
 
When I started this journey - I've been coaching for five or six years - I had a chat with Arsene and he was saying that players sometimes jump hurdles because they have the name, they can get in, and it's important do the research if you can call it that. For me that was essential that I did the under-15s, under-16s, under-19s and then the under-23s in the youth, and I got so much experience from those players, to understand their mentality, what makes them tick, and how you can get the best out of them, because they're a totally different generation from myself for example. And from that I stepped into being an assistant in the Bundesliga, then with Unai and Mikel. I felt I had learnt so much and I wanted to take my time to get that foundation and knowledge of the game, not just as a player but as a coach, and now I think it's the time to challenge myself. Of course I could have stayed at Arsenal for a long time and been comfortable, I have so many friends from the people around the club, but sometimes you have to make a decision and I think this is the right thing for me.
 
When you stepped into the interim role at very short notice last season and did such a fine job, what did you learn about yourself as a coach?
 
You learn a lot. The club was in an extremely difficult situation and how I saw it is like when that happens to something you love, you step in and you help, regardless of what it is. That's what I tried to do. I tried to keep calmness in front of the players and people on the outside when storms were going. As a coach I learned so much, there were games every three days and no training in between. I'm very proud of that, I'm very happy [with it] and I hope people are happy as well.
 
You've just got to look around the squad at people like Bukayo, Joe, Emile, Eddie and many others to understand the impact that you've had in recent times. How much pride do you feel when you think about your role in the development of what is really a new generation of Arsenal talent?

It's amazing that when you say all those names... I didn't really think about it like that but it's with enormous pride when I hear that and when I see them play. I've been trying... with Bukayo since I think he was 15 years old... and I've been trying to help these players and to see them develop into the first team and have so many of them doing so well, and feeling that you've hopefully been a bit part of helping them, it's an amazing feeling to feel that at this time we have so many young players in Arsenal's first team.

Bukayo often talks about how much you believe in him, he talks about how you would speak to the coaches and tell them he was ready for the first team. Having persuaded the coaches to give him a chance and then to see him do so well, what kind of emotion does that stir in you?
 
It's actually not just Bukayo, there's some other ones like that because when they are young there are always question marks and it's a little bit unique. I don't say it's a gamble but like I've said a few times, I've put my neck on the line and said 'no, he is ready, go for it and he'll show' and of course if he doesn't then that's on me. But I believe that a young player, when you can see they're ready, needs to get the chance and sometimes they just don't get the chance and then nothing happens. But the main thing is that they do it, not me. I just try to help them a little bit on the way and when they get the chance with all the pressure and all that, they've done it.

You've now got this great reputation as a coach, Freddie, but this journey for you at Arsenal, it started 22 years ago. What do you remember about being that spiky-haired young Swede who arrived at Highbury in 1998?
 
That's a long, long time ago! Of course it's fond memories. I was so young and moved straight from Sweden to here and I played for a long, long time and of course I scored on my debut against Manchester United. I was lucky enough that we had such an amazing team - the Invincibles - and we won things. It was great as a team and as an individual. So of course, that's amazing and I will take that with me forever. But then you have the other part as well where, like we've talked about before, the privilege - I'm almost getting a little bit emotional - to coach these young players that I can see coming through now and I can feel the happiness within myself when they do well. It topped that off when I was the interim coach and we went to West Ham and I don't think we had won away from home since the first day of the season. We were under so much pressure and we won that game in a good way and you could almost see the tears in some players' eyes because of the pressure and the release. Those memories I will definitely always take with me.

Whether you've been a player or a coach the fans still sing 'We Love You Freddie...'. The red hair's gone but the love and respect is as strong as ever. Why is that relationship with the fans so special for you?
 
I love the fans. I can't say anything else. I can be honest and say that when I was younger, I stood in with the fans where I came from and it's a bond and I don't know, I just love the fans and I got connections with them. For me, of course when you're a player it's a different thing but when they sang my name in all the games that I was the interim, that showed how special they were for me. They always stood behind me. Not behind me actually, next to me, beside me. They helped me all the time and that is something that I will never, ever forget.

And wherever you do go next, I'm sure there will be many opportunities, that connection to Arsenal never leaves you. Can you sum up what this club means to you?
 
The fact that I've been connected with it for 22 years probably shows how special it is to me. I've always said it's the values, the humbleness and acting with class but still always having that pressure and you always have to win. That's not always so easy, to combine those things and that's something I will always take with me and I've learned to know so many great people at the club now and not at the club now. But I've had the privilege to have them as lifelong friends.

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