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Freddie Ljungberg on the Premier League and his best ever XI

The Arsenal legend shares his thoughts on the Premier League and picks the best players he's ever faced

Freddie Ljungberg on the Premier League and his best ever XI
22 September 2016

Eight. Freddie Ljungberg scored eight goals to help Arsenal secure their Invincibles title of 2003/2004, including a peach of a hat-trick against Sunderland. His rapid work rate and cool finishing cemented himself in the legacy of the club's history in nine trophy-laden years, earning him the chant, "We love you Freddie, coz you're everywhere".

In the years since his departure from the club in 2007, much has changed in the world of football: Arsenal have failed to win a Premier League title, Leicester have clinched their first, and £90 million is now an acceptable amount of money to spend on a single player. 

We spoke to Ljungberg about his thoughts on the current state of the game, from the Premier League's newfound wealth to its continuing problems with homophobia. Read on to find out his selection of the greatest 11 players he's ever played against (even if they were on the bench).

What's changed the most about the Premier League since you left?
It's quite similar to when I played. The main thing is that the referees are giving a lot more free kicks, so they're cleaning up the game a lot more. It's a quicker game, a more technical game - you can't get away with as many tackles as you did in the old days. I think that's a good thing - it premieres more of the offensive players. The game gets faster every year. Maybe a way of describing the way we used to play the game in the 'old days' was with short sharp intensity. I think in general the game has changed more to mirror that play - it's not running a marathon at one speed, you're doing short and sharp bursts, that's what physically you have to be able to cope with.

Is money changing the nature of the game? Does it affect young players knowing the value they represent for a club?

I think in general the younger players are then they get more and more money [than they would outside football]. Of course that can influence their thought process, there's no question that that can have an influence. When you talk about money in general - that is money that's come from the TV rights and all that kind of stuff - I think every team in Europe knows that the Premiership clubs have a lot of money so they can just bump up their prices 20 per cent. I don't think that means that the players are worth that, but the seller knows that they can do that. They just hold out for the big money, it pushes the prices up, like in any business. It doesn't mean the players are worth it; the market decides the prices.

Stonewall recently published a report on the continued presence of homophobia in English football. Why do you think it persists?
I had a little rumour about being gay when I was younger, when I was playing. I got it often from the stands and stuff like that. That was just a fact. For me I saw it as, 'If you want to sing that, it shows that I'm a great player, you're trying to unbalance me'. Of course that exists, it's just a fact... I'm not really surprised by it.

Why is a footballer yet to come out as gay in the Premier League?
I don't actually know. Of course, it may be some psychological stuff - people are scared to say, something like that - the response of maybe family and friends and all that kind of stuff. I think it plays into your decision maybe, when you come out. But if you look at the percentage [of gay men] in society, you would probably say percentage wise there should be a few in the Premiership - given the number of players, if I'm correct, if I know my maths. Time will tell, we'll see what happens. For me personally, why I love - for example - living in London is because London is a special place where everyone is accepted as equal. I hope that is the same as in the world of football.

Who will win this season's Premier League?

Of course I think Arsenal are going to win.

And finally, which players you've faced would make up your greatest world XI?

  1. Van Der Sar

  2. Lillian Thuram 

  3. Jaap Stam - "I remember one game I played against Stam at Old Trafford. At one point I was running at him, he was next to me and my feet just left the ground. I think he just grabbed me in a hug and lifted me up - it's the funniest free kick I'd ever been awarded, for being picked up. That just shows how strong he was - he just lifted me with one arm."

  4. Paolo Maldini

  5. Ashley Cole - "Once you've played against someone for a long time there's no secrets really. They know how I play, I know how they play as an opponent. There's no secrets even if you train with each other. He was a good friend when he played at Arsenal. There was a contract dispute and I don't blame him for leaving as that happened. He knew what I was good at, I knew what he was good at - it was a nice battle. He's an honest and good player. He's got very quick feet."

  6. Zinedine Zidane - "Zidane is a lot bigger than most people think he is. When he protects the ball he's big it's quite hard to get it to it because of his size. It's not that obvious for players to be that technical and that mobile when he's quite big - usually they're quite small to perform some of the "tricks" that he did. The ball was further away than if he was a small player so you couldn't really nick it."

  7. Roy Keane - "We had a lot of run ins with Keane in the United side - when he won the ball he'd always play it out with one touch, which was very good for their transition, and it's difficult for a defensive midfielder to do. I always admired the way he did that, because when he stepped in he always managed to play it out to Giggs or Beckham - he played it out straight away. "

  8. Edgar Davids

  9. Andrés Iniesta 

  10. Lionel Messi - "I played Barcelona a few times in the Champions League final, a few more times in my career - I think he was on the bench in the final, but he should be on the list because he's the best in the world."

  11. Patrick Kluivert

Freddie Ljungberg was wearing the new TAG Heuer Premier League Aquaracer at its Premier League Pressure Test event in London. TAG Heuer is the first ever Official Timekeeper and Official Watch of the Premier League.

(Images: TAG, Rex)