UPDATE 4:57 p.m. — This transcript is complete.
Freddie Ljungberg, who will be making his return to Qwest Field as a member of the Chicago Fire on Saturday night, held a teleconference with reporters this afternoon. It just concluded and as I’m typing up the transcript, I’ll post the Q&A here.
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(How does it feel to be coming to Qwest Field as a visitor?) “I’ll have a big smile on my face. It’s going to feel weird in one way, no question about it. But the little time I’ve just been back here in Seattle, now I just walked to Starbucks and everyone wanted to have a photo and they want to talk and have autographs and wish me good luck, it’s just proves a little bit what a great time I had here and how amazing the fans are in this city here.”
(Do you think you’ll get a warm reception tomorrow?) “You never know, you know? You get into a stadium and don’t know at all what reception you’ll get when you get back. Of course I can hope for something. I talked to some other people here and they’re like, ‘They’ll probably be very nice to you at the beginning and if the score is not going their way, they’ll get on your back.’ So we’ll see.”
(To what to you attribute your increase in performance in Chicago as opposed to Seattle?) “First of all I want to say I had a great time in Seattle. You ask about a difference, I think the coach wants to use me more maybe for what I contribute in that department a little bit and we play maybe more of an offensive game, which I really like. I think that’s maybe part of it. And of course I have great teammates, like I had in Seattle, they help me out.”
(Steve Zakuani called your return an “occasion.” How does it feel for you having to do a media tour and with all the extra things surrounding this game?) “Well Zakuani’s a great player and a great guy, I heard he was speaking a little bit today as well. Also, it’s going to be nice to see him. Of course it’s going to be a special day to see all my friends and teammates. As you said about the media, it’s just a demand and part of the game. I don’t think you guys would be happy if I said I wasn’t going to talk to any of you guys. I think that’s an important part of growing the game in America.”
(You’re a player that probably could’ve gone to Europe when you left Seattle, why was staying in MLS important to you?) “Yeah, I can say one team that was in a big league, at the Champions League level, that wanted me to join this summer. That was kind of a hard decision for me, because of course sometimes — how do you say? — it tingles in your legs a little bit when you see the big games and you would like to play again in them. But I felt I’ve been in America, I promised the fans and stuff to help out and make the sport grow. And the way (Fire owner Andrew Hauptman) spoke to me when I came to Chicago, how he wants to go for it. You see how New York is going for it at the moment and raise the level of the game here. I think that was something that I wanted to keep on challenging and try to help as much as I can. And, of course, Chicago is a great city and a great team.”
(What was returning to Arsenal as a West Ham player like and can you draw on that for tomorrow?) “For me that was an amazing day. I got a standing ovation. And you can imagine when I got in the stadium, of course it was a very emotional day. I was there for 10 years so that was very special. For everything in Seattle, for example, I just need to put aside my friendships with the players and everybody around for 90-95 minutes and try to just concentrate on my job to play well. That is the important part.”
(Is it better to be playing on grass in Chicago? Has that made a difference?) “You know, it’s no question. I’ve never played on turf before in my life until I got to Seattle. I think when you like the location of the stadium and all that, how they made it here in Seattle and the facility of the stadium, how you can have that level for the fans, I can understand playing on (turf) in that stadium. Of course I think soccer should be played on grass, there’s no question about it. But I think when you want the game to grow sometimes you can’t make everything exactly perfect. But if you build a stadium these days just for soccer, I definitely think it should be grass.
(What’s your overall feeling about the way your relationship with the Sounders ended?) “I tried to take the high road and not comment and stuff when everything was written and things were going on, because I felt that was not the time to talk. I still have great relationships with Chris Henderson and Adrian Hanauer, I still talk to them and we’re still friends. Some people tried to angle it that there was a rift or something where I didn’t get along with some of the players, this and that. I think now the time has proven the truth. I think that’s why I didn’t want to go out and talk about it … I feel so happy I didn’t have to comment about anything. Everything is good. I’m going to have dinner again with some of my old teammates after the game. So of course it’s emotional to come back and stuff, but when you change teams, it couldn’t have been better in any way the contact I have with them now.”
(What ultimately led to your being traded?) “It’s quite simple to be honest. What happened was, my contract was up now in November and there was a lot of interest in me this summer so I just asked the club, so when are we going to negotiate my contract? In Europe, you probably do that at least a year before it ends. And I was told in America you do it after the contract is up. And you have to be realistic. I’m 33 years old and I had a lot of options and I said I can’t just sit and wait, because I passed some stuff by in the winter and I did that for the club, or for Seattle, and I said I need to make a decision and that’s how it ended up. There’s nothing or hard feelings in any way. Of course, when I told them that and Sigi wouldn’t let me train with the team, there became a lot of speculations. That’s one thing I’ll never understand, but that’s just part of it, and that’s just how it is.
(How important is getting the result tomorrow?) “I think we’ve played amazingly well lately and we lost unfortunately against Houston 4-3 and we conceded three corners and a free kick. Apart from that we played amazingly well and played, to be honest, almost Houston off the park at some places, especially in the second half. That’s something that we need to learn from and not concede goals like that. But playing-wise, we played really, really good so I think we’re coming in with a lot of belief. And Seattle is a hard place to come out, of course I played here so I know that, but at the same time we have I think three games in hand on Seattle. … I think mostly there is more pressure on Seattle to win the game than there is on us. Of course, we’re going in to try and win the game.”
(At the end of this season will you still have to figure out your contract and if you’re staying in MLS?) “Yeah, that’s probably correct yes.”
(So not much has changed these, you’re just in a different location?) “Maybe not exactly the same to be honest, but of course I think they’ve been absolutely amazing in Chicago and they have great future plans and all that stuff. But I felt that if I wanted to stay in MLS I felt it was important just to sign for six months and see if everything was right and everything felt correct and then we’ll make a decision after that. So you’re probably half right and probably half incorrect.”
(How did you maintain a positive personal relationship with the Sounders FC front office despite the dispute?) “I think business is business. That’s just how things work. If people are respectful and behave in the right way, there’s absolutely nothing that will ever interfere with the respect you have for that person. I like them very much. I like them when I played and I like them the same way I do now. That’s nothing that interferes with each other. That’s probably what I can say about that.”