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Freddie Ljungberg Signs for Sounders FC
But the Case for the Defence Still to be Built?

By Steve MacClare
October 31, 2008


Ljungberg presents his new uniform
Photo © Joe Armand    

     Firstly, I apologise for being late with this article. The press conference and big announcement was Tuesday and we thought it wise to delay the article rather than write a piece about some other matter when the rest of the footballing world has been talking about this. As I’m sure have you. 

     Freddie Ljungberg has signed on a 2 year contract worth $2.5m, making him the third highest paid player in Major League Soccer behind LA’s David Beckham and Chicago Fire’s Cuauhtemoc Blanco. That Sounders FC now have one of the top earners in MLS underlines their commitment, both financial and footballing, to making Seattle the ‘epicenter of football in North America according to Tod Leiweke CEO of Vulcan Sports and Entertainment, owners of the Seattle Seahawks and one of the minority shareholders of the club. 

     Worldwide reaction has not been overwhelmingly supportive. Tom Bryant writing in the Manchester Guardian said “Meanwhile, with £6m of West Ham's money filling out the front of his kecks, Freddie Ljungberg will be taking his chiselled pecs, undercrackers and wonky knees off to Seattle Sounders in order to replace David Beckham as the American not-as-good-as-he-used-to-be-but-looks-quite-good-in-the-photoshoots player of choice.”  

     There were other comparisons to David Beckham whose LA Galaxy failed to make the play-offs in a league where more than half the teams qualify. The LA Times Graeme Jones wrote “Some MLS fans are going to have a tough time telling Ljungberg and David Beckham apart. Consider: Beckham plays on the right wing. So does Ljungberg. Beckham wears his hair cut very short. So does Ljungberg. Beckham is a male model. So is Ljungberg. Beckham captained his national team. So did Ljungberg. Beckham has never won a World Cup or a European Championship. Neither has Ljungberg. Beckham is covered in tatoos. Ljungberg also has one or two. Beckham has been injury prone. So has Ljungberg.” 

     However, people in Seattle seem to care little what the English press say, least of all Ljungberg himself. “Of course there will be mixed reactions. I know how it works. When David (Beckham) went to the MLS, and how the Europeans see the MLS that maybe the league is not that great. I think that isn’t true. Now David may be gone to Milan for a stop. I think in Europe we look at, if he can crack it in Milan; he’s still doing very well, and shows that MLS is a good level if he can do that. Me personally, I’m coming here because I want to play football, and I see this as a great experience. I want to make this league better and develop it, like all these guys here want to do as well. I’ve had three months to think about my future a lot,” he told a morning press conference. 

     Chirping in, Joe Roth Sounders FC Majority owner added "This is not a gimmick. We don’t need anyone to come here to sell tickets". Indeed he doesn’t. With 17,000 season tickets already sold before Ljungberg’s arrival, Seattle has more season ticket holders than most MLS clubs have fans. And notwithstanding what Roth said, this acquisition cannot do anything other than help.  

     “I believe in the game of football and even if people initially come to the Sounders to look at Ljungberg, I sincerely believe they will stay to watch the beautiful game” 

     I think that a bit of showbiz is a good thing and tend to disagree with some of the more hardcore fans who don’t. I believe in the game of football and even if people initially come to the Sounders to look at Ljungberg, I sincerely believe they will stay to watch the beautiful game because Sounders FC will play it the beautiful way. In Gambian Sanna Nyassi, they have one of the  best raw talents I have seen for many years and I believe he will capture the hearts of football purist and football ‘tourist’ alike. Kasey Keller is an American legend and his arrival checks off the box marked ‘get someone American sports fans have heard of’ on GM Adrian Hanauer’s fabled checklist. Washington State native Keller also plays to the local interest factor but he still has a hunger to play, and play well in front of his own folk. 

     Lastly, in what’s left of our Sounders soccer sub-culture, Sébastien Le Toux stands out for his previous service. Moreover, anyone who sticks the ball in the back of the net like Seb can  will always have a cult status. Besides, he promised me another interview after he scores his first MLS goal so he has my totally impartial support! (Comme on dit à Québec Seba, je me souviens). 

     Fan reaction has been far better with even some initial doubters being swung round by the way Ljungberg was presented. A recent opinion poll showed over 60% believing he’ll be an immediate success. These guys are at the more knowledgeable (and arguably more sceptical) end of the Seattle soccer spectrum. Webmaster David Falk probably came closest to summing up the prevailing view of his posters when he said “Freddie is a calculated risk that has much more chance of a payoff than some people are giving it credit for." 

     Some of you may have noticed a lack of defenders so far. Well, in one of Tuesday’s lighter moments, Roth revealed with a huge Hollywood size grin on his face “If someone said to me today, you’re playing next week .. honestly what I would say is  I need two defenders and we’re ready to go.” Part of me believes he would say it too! 

     Speculation will soon begin as to who they might be, but current Sounders players will have to wait till the next stage of the MLS expansion draft on November 26 according to Hanauer. The Sounders Front Office is remarkably patient, has a process in mind, and my earlier reference to Hanauer having a checklist is only partially in jest. I suspect ‘ignore flak from the international media’ has just been checked off that list with ‘get defenders’ up next. 

     But until late November at least Seattle is Freddie Town, and really none of us will know whether this was a case of the Lake Havasu authorities buying London Bridge thinking they were getting Tower Bridge* or a piece of opportunistic brilliance by the smartest of American entrepreneurs. It could turn out to be either but is far more likely to be the latter. However more depends on who the other 24 additions to the roster are than on Ljungberg’s past.  One thing I am sure of, we don’t have a Beckham situation where Sounders FC will delude themselves that one man can win championships. Quality defenders will hopefully follow and the effectiveness of those more than anything will deliver the final verdict on Freddie’s signing.  

     But until then, let’s just enjoy the arrival of a world class name to help build a world class football club, and let the English press say what’s on their mind without worrying too much. 

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 * The popular myth that London Bridge was bought in the belief that it was, in fact, London's more recognisable Tower Bridge has been repeatedly denied by Ivan F Luckin, Chairman of the City of London Police and London Councillor, who sold it in 1968, according to his nephew Terry Bedford.


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© 2006 All content property of European Weekly unless where otherwise accredited