Fan Favourite Freddie

Professional footballers have become even harder to reach.

The pedestal they stand upon has reached a heady height, craning your neck up to see this sporting icon and suffering dizzying vertigo as a result.

Social media, a tool that should shorten the gap between ground level and the clouds upon which they sit, instead drags them further away from your lowly position. A constant stream of images from far flung places gives you the initial experience of being ensconced in their world – but it is a different plane, sitting parallel to yours.

It of course used to be different, but the last two decades has seen an exponential rise in a footballer’s stock. Image is everything, but it isn’t as if we never had players who were iconic.

The hair, the clothes, the whole package screaming of the super-cool. From Charlie George in the 70s, Champagne Charlie in the 80s, Wrighty in the 90s – they were always the most popular amongst fan picks.

My personal favourite?

Freddie Ljungberg.

The super Swede immortalised himself with his red hair, bringing the fans adoration close simply with the right choice of hair colour (Danny Rose tried and failed).

He was a good looking fellow, no dispute, but it was his hair that made him an icon, coupled with one other asset.

His knack of scoring goals – important goals.

Was there another of his era who was better at ghosting into the box? His timing was perfection, his finishing unerring, his hair bright red.

Freddie with PL trophy

Goals flowed, and his debut against Man United in 1999 saw a lobbed finish over Peter Schmeichel that lives long in the memory.

I tried to recreate his hairstyle, only succeeding in making my hair pink and waiting days for it to wash out. It was my attempt to pay homage to a player who had become my idol. There was no social media then that allowed a window into their life. I simply had to read up on whatever titbit of info was available.

My hair travesty aside – I am now bald like the man himself and this style is much easier to manage – Ljungberg earned his way into our hearts because he gave his all on the pitch, and his goals were a huge reason why we won the title in 2002. His run of goals in the business end of the season kept us afloat. Bergkamp could find his incessant runs easily, and when in the box, Freddie always found a way.

He is often overlooked in terms of his importance to that great era, but the right side of midfield was always an option for whomever was on the ball, and he dutifully did his defensive duties effectively.

In short, Freddie had no discernible weakness, aside from his infernal wisdom teeth, which put him out of action for many games on separate occasions. Has there been a player who has possessed his particular set of skills since? Perhaps Rambo, but has the Welshman done it with such panache?

Did he do it with red hair?

Freddie will always hold a special spot in my memory, because he was the first player who I wanted to be. He was the first player I put on the pedestal and aimed to be like – and I got a neck ache in the process.

Freddie is now managing our kids, and we get to see him often. His red hair might be gone, and the barrier between player and fan is still high. Even sans-rouge locks, Freddie oozes cool, and I know that should the barrier come down and I get a chance to meet him?

I’d still be a mess meeting my hero.

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