Freddie Ljungberg interview: Former Arsenal midfielder looking to Wenger as he plots his new life in coaching

Ross McLean
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If the past really does dictate the future then former Arsenal midfielder Freddie Ljungberg has a notable back catalogue to consult as he plots his ascendency to the upper echelons of the coaching world.

A member of the Gunners’ Invincibles who went the entire 2003-04 campaign unbeaten, Ljungberg, who won five major trophies in nine years at the club, is back at London Colney as head coach of Arsenal’s under-15 side.

The 39-year-old admits he needed a push from his old mentor Arsene Wenger, who he describes as a father figure, to take the plunge, although having found his feet he is not reticent about outlining his personal ambitions.

“My vision is I want to go as far as I possibly can,” Ljungberg told City A.M. “But I’m trying to earn my stripes and do it the right way.

“I was offered roles as assistant here and assistant there, but I spoke to Arsene about things and it’s important to make your own mistakes and be the one making the decisions.

“Now I have my own staff of six people and I need to manage them and for them to feel like a group pulling in the same direction.

“It’s important to give people ownership and I’m not the headmaster telling people what to do all the time. I do 60 hours a week, just trying to coach, coach, coach and get experience and build from there.”

Earning one’s stripes is extremely important to Ljungberg, who believes coaching the next generation of players and getting a feel for their mindsets will stand him in good stead.

“The main thing why I am doing the younger age groups is they are the future and mentality-wise we are changing as human beings,” he added. “We often talk about them just being on the iPads, whereas our generation maybe sat talking, but there is no point in me saying that because those are the facts.

“I need to change with the times and ask ‘how will I be able to inspire them, get them concentrated and focused’.

“That’s something I’m trying to learn so in the future when these players come up to the first team places, if they ever get a chance somewhere, I will know how they think and what makes them tick. That’s very important.”

Wenger has been heavily criticised for not utilising more of Arsenal’s ex-players from earlier in his reign; Thierry Henry infamously departed in the summer after being handed an ultimatum regarding his ongoing television commitments.

Being on the inside, Ljungberg, who won 75 caps for Sweden, was guarded against denouncing his paymasters, although the former West Ham and Celtic winger did hint the onus is on clubs to make sure any such opportunities are attractive propositions.

“It’s totally up to the clubs,” said Ljungberg. “They make the path as to where they want to go but they need to make ex-players feel inspired because most of them are financially secure, so for them it needs to be nice for them to be involved again and something which inspires.

“I think there are a lot ex-players that would love to be involved with their clubs.”

Wenger is oft-maligned by sections of Arsenal’s supporters for failing to invest in players capable of securing a consistent string of trophies – their last Premier League title was won by Ljungberg and the rest of the Invincibles.

But having splashed out close to £90m during the summer transfer window, which included the captures of midfielder Granit Xhaka and defender Shkodran Mustafi, Ljungberg believes Arsenal are edging closer to reprising their glory days.

“Arsene is cherry-picking the players, like Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, that will make the team great,” he said. “This season he bought two players which were needed. He is building his squad.

“We’re in a good situation. We were second last season and this season I hope we win it.”

Freddie Ljungberg was speaking at the TAG Heuer Premier League Pressure Test. TAG Heuer is the first ever Official Timekeeper and Official Watch of the Premier League. www.tagheuerpressuretest.com