Freddie Ljungberg declared his commitment to Seattle on Tuesday after weighing the possibility of a move back to Europe. Kyle McCarthy argues Ljungberg's messy flirtation could leave him with fences to mend once he returns to the Pacific Northwest.By Kyle McCarthy
Give Freddie Ljungberg some credit. By Tuesday afternoon, he finally got his story straight about why he wasn't practicing with the rest of his Seattle teammates when Sounders FC training camp opened on Monday morning.
“I can say that the reason I missed training this week was because of a communication error due to the business discussions,” Ljungberg wrote on his personal blog. “I had by this point already committed to playing with the Sounders next year, which I am very excited about.”
The resolution – Ljungberg spurning European suitors to commit to Sounders FC for a second season – makes sense. The circuitous progression to the final outcome, however, invites confusion and speculation.
The whole snafu probably started with that pesky lingering European interest in Ljungberg's services. Reports cropped up intermittently, linking Ljungberg with moves to any number of clubs that weren't particularly interested in him when he was available on a free transfer after leaving West Ham in the summer of 2008.
What happened next descends deep into a murky mire far removed from the Swedish powder Ljungberg carved up during the offseason. Maybe the renewed interest turned Ljungberg's head a bit. Maybe the former Arsenal star wanted to test the waters to see which of the two sets of rules employed in these situations – the free European loan passes handed to David Beckham and Landon Donovan or the strictures keeping everyone else Stateside – applied to him. Maybe the concern he expressed about the Collective Bargaining Agreement talks prompted him to evaluate possible alternatives to stay on the field.
Although the rationale behind Ljungberg's possible interest in a European move remains uncertain, it is clear that Ljungberg and Seattle contemplated the possibility that he might move on after one season. Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid told reporters on Monday that his club knew that Ljungberg “was looking at options in Europe” and previously discussed his possible departure internally. Ljungberg's handwringing about the CBA on his personal blog last week indicated the Swede had done the same. His absence from the first day of training camp said all that needed to be said about how seriously he had weighed the possibility of leaving.
Before Ljungberg, his agent, Seattle general manager Adrian Hanauer and Schmid bridged the communications gap that led to Schmid's behind-the-times statements on Monday, two prominent figures expressed their displeasure with Ljungberg's absence. Schmid told the Seattle Times “[i]t's not OK” and noted that Ljungberg would likely faced internal discipline for his failure to report on time. The more interesting statement, at least from an outsider's perspective, came from Sounders FC captain Kasey Keller.
“I want the players on this team who want to be here,” Keller told The News-Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.). “If Freddie wants to be here and wants to be fully committed, then sure. If he doesn’t, it’s more of a distraction than a benefit. That’s how I am: I’d much rather have a guy with less talent that wants to be here than a guy with great talent who doesn’t.”
Call Keller's comments a shot over the bow, but it isn't a great leap to say Ljungberg will have some work to do in the locker room to atone for his waffling commitment to the cause. Considering the stakes in play with the CBA negotiations, there could hardly be a worse time to isolate yourself from your teammates. Togetherness is almost compulsory in an environment where the rank-and-file MLS player is staring into the abyss of a work stoppage, even though the peril lessens slightly with each passing day and with each positive comment uttered from the mouth of a Union player rep. At a time when many players are preaching and practicing unity, Ljungberg – one of the few players with a host of alternative options and one of the very few wealthy enough to withstand a work stoppage without incurring significant financial harm – distanced himself from his teammates and pursued his own agenda. Some will forgive him readily and let the incident pass quickly, while others may not.
Ljungberg appears to understand that he may have misstepped. He straightened out the so-called confusion, espoused the need for players to fight for their rights in the CBA negotiations, contended he had been told there would be no work stoppage and reaffirmed his commitment to Seattle in that Tuesday afternoon blog posting. Expect him to express similar sentiments when he takes the training field for the first time next Monday.
The real examination of Ljungberg's narrative will occur behind closed doors once he joins his teammates. Only then will he discover how his desire to keep his short-term European options open will impact the short- and long-term future with the best choice he possessed all along.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSnet.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
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