I should start this with a disclaimer: if you're expecting a qualified analysis of the athletic aspects of football, you should stop reading right now. This is strictly a discussion of the aesthetic aspects of the game. I make no claims to be an expert on what we North Americans like to call soccer, but I do feel particularly well qualified to comment on the...let's just say...players' assets.
That's why I was over the moon when The Local's associate editor David Landes happened to mention that Swedish soccer darling Freddie Ljungberg had done a Beckham and headed across the Atlantic to play in Major League Soccer (MLS). And I found it particularly fortuitous he had landed in Seattle, my (almost) hometown.
I was anxious to see Freddie in action. After sitting out the first game of the season due to hip surgery in December, the Swede made his MLS debut against Salt Lake on Saturday March 28th. His first goal a week later was the decider in favour of the Sounders in a 2-0 win against Toronto FC.
To rewind a bit, I first became acquainted with Freddie's, um, ball handling skills during the 2006 World Cup when he scored a winning goal in the 88th minute against Paraguay, assuring the Swedish National Team a spot in the second round. Sure, that was cool, but the game became infinitely more interesting when I discovered that Freddie was also an underwear model.
His professional resume is impressive: Swedish National Team captain, star in the English Premier League, Arsenal winger, and of course, poster boy for Calvin Klein.
So what's this Swedish midfielder-cum-male-model doing playing footsie with a bunch of Yanks? In 2007, he transferred to West Ham after nine years with Arsenal. Following a £6 million payment to terminate his contract after broken ribs kept him off the field for most of his stint with the East London team, speculations abounded about his imminent retirement. In October 2008, however, the Sounders announced they had signed Ljungberg as their Designated Player for 2009. At a salary of $1.3 million per year, Freddie has now become the fourth-highest paid player in the entire MLS.
But forget about the moolah and the fancy titles. I think that in reality, it's all about the boxer briefs. Freddie wanted to come to a country where we savour the finer things in life - like a hot Swede wearing very few clothes. He explained it all in a 2006 interview with a British tabloid: "In America, where of course there is so little interest in soccer, I have become the Calvin Klein ad man…People stop me in the street and I expect a conversation about football, but all they want to talk about is the underwear!"
Of course we do! We're an appreciative bunch, especially when it comes to sexy Swedes. And Freddie is clearly doing his part to spark American interest in the game. All of this season's Sounders games have been sell-outs.
The Sounders management is certainly taking advantage of Freddie's curbside appeal, with his cherubic little face plastered all over local billboards and buses. Now if they would just let him run around on the field in his underwear. (As a side note, since taking off your shirt results in a yellow card, is removing your pants an automatic red? That would really be a shame. It's a practice that ought to be encouraged, not punished.)
I've certainly become a fan, if not of the game, at least of the man. You know how some couples indulge each other's celebrity crushes by allowing a theoretical free pass if one of them ever has the chance to hook up with Hollywood royalty? Well, my boyfriend had a thing for actual royalty in the form of Princess Madeleine, so I let him have his fantasy while I held out for Freddie.
I'm glad I did, because now it seems like it might be a fated encounter. After all, he's Swedish, and I speak Swedish. And we're both in Seattle. What more could you ask for?
Freddie, if you're reading this, give me a call or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. It might just turn into, as they say in soccer-ese, an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.