Arsenal icon Freddie Ljungberg has waxed lyrical about Gunners academy graduate Bukayo Saka, in conversation with The Telegraph.
Ljungberg, previously a coach at Arsenal, oversaw the 19-year-old’s rise from the Gunners academy, to the Under-23s and ultimately the first team.
The Swede was also the first Arsenal head coach to move Saka to left-back, away at Standard Liege in the Europa League, a game in which he scored and made an assist.
Since then, Saka has become an important first-team member and fully-fledged England international, with 54 competitive Gunners appearances and four England caps under his belt.
When Ljungberg left Arsenal in August to pursue new opportunities, Saka sung his praises, telling the club website: “Freddie has given us all so much valuable advice and support.
“He’s a fantastic coach and someone we all look up to. I’m just so grateful that I’ve been able to work alongside and learn directly from someone like him at this early part of my career.”
In conversation with The Telegraph, Ljungberg recalled the interaction between the two after he switched the player to left-back, and also revealed he spoke to his family after leaving the club.
“Yeah, he wasn’t happy about that (being moved to left-back)! I even did it with the Under-23s,” said Ljungberg.
“I changed the system for an away game for Bukayo to play wing-back and he was not impressed with me. I said ‘but Bukayo, that might actually be where you play’.
“I was with him early, since he was 15 years old, and there were always people saying ‘oh no, this and that’.
Not to take credit, because it was Bukayo who did it, not me. But, for me, it was very clear and there was nothing to talk about.
“He’s so humble, so hungry to learn new things and so, of course, he is a special talent.
“I think it was the second phone call I made when I left the club. To his family, just to make sure they knew from me and not from the media. I’m so happy to see him doing so well.”
Whilst last season was mostly difficult for Arsenal – until the tail end of the campaign anyway – Saka’s breakthrough was one of the main positives, and he’s gone from strength to strength all the way to becoming a Gunners regular and England starter.
Securing his services on a long-term contract was just one of several coups for the Gunners over the past few months, and of course, credit to Ljungberg for the superb work he’s put in to help the player achieve his potential.