Byline: SIMON MILLS
Yes, he wears designer clothes and, yes, he loves Abba. But, as Arsenal's Freddie Ljungberg reveals in this exclusive interview, he takes the speculation about his sexuality as a compliment
FOR a little guy, Freddie Ljungberg sure knows how to make an entrance. He bursts in to our appointment, almost an hour late, wearing a broad grin, an asymmetric, Inuit-style sheepskin coat, a hooded sweat top and flared jeans.
A floppy, chunkyknit beanie hat, which appears to have been designed for a Rastafarian Smurf, is pulled over his trademark, crazy-coloured hair. Which today, by the way, is dyed bright aubergine.
But, I know what you're thinking.
Freddie Ljungberg is gay, right? I mean, come on, the evidence is irrefutable, isn't it? After all, here is a young man who is so good looking he must have been genetically engineered. He has the bone structure of a comic-book hero, cheeks you could shave white truffles on and eyes like back-lit sapphires. He doesn't have a steady girlfriend, he wears outrageously camp designer clothes by the likes of Roberto Cavalli and - this appears to be the clincher - he absolutely adores musicals.
Since moving to London he's seen Mamma Mia! three times, Miss Saigon and Saturday Night Fever.
Saturday Night Fever is his favourite.
There is also the fact that, whenever Freddie Ljungberg runs out on to the pitch, he is serenaded by rival fans with an unrepeatable mantra to the tune of the Village People's Go West.
Not what one would call an Oscar Wilde level of wit and sophistication, but there you go. But he doesn't let the Neanderthal chanting and the constant gossiping get to him. "I am not gay," he tells me wearily. "But gay men can be very fashionable, so maybe it's a compliment."
While Ljungberg is not a homosexual, the disadvantage of growing up in a blond, vital Sweden where even the ugly girls look like cover models has made him decidedly fussy. Indeed, ask around a bit and you'll discover that the boy is a bit of swordsman on the quiet. There's the stunning Canadian model he dated last year, and the beautiful Swedish receptionist he took out for a while.
He confesses that he doesn't have sex before a match, though. "I feel that girls are going to make me lose my concentration before a game," he laughs.
"I want to keep the feeling in my feet. It sort of disappears if you have sex before a match. I've tried it and my feet felt like concrete when I was supposed to kick the ball," he says. "After the game, though - well, then it's different."
Much of the conjecture about Ljungberg's private life seems to stem from his low profile off the pitch. He might have a cockatoo barnet and sport ostentatious catwalk clothes, but he is actually rather shy. There are no 48-hour benders, no tales of ugly, excessive shopping sprees or outsize, off-road 4x4s.
"I don't dress like this and dye my hair to attract attention," he says. "I don't do it to make people look at me in the street or on the pitch. I do it for me. It's a personality statement. I've been dying my hair ever since I was a 14-year-old kid in Sweden. It's just something I do."
When he's not playing football he likes to hang out at bars and restaurants with friends and his brother Filip, a fashion student who shares his Hampstead apartment.
Freddie is particularly fond of the fashionable Wellington Club and Zuma, the modish Knightsbridge honeypot where London's rich Eurotrash set gorge on blackened cod and tempura. Of late, however, he has been staying in because he thinks going out would be inappropriate. "I like to be out and about, but when you're injured it's not right for the fans to see you having a good time."
Does he get upset when he leaves Nobu after a quiet dinner with a (male) friend and the picture is all over the papers the next day, with less than subtle implications? …