BY Stanley Holmes 01:23PM 12/31/2010

So long Freddie Ljungberg

The Swedish superstar exited as an enigma in the MLS

Freddie Ljungberg

Freddie Ljungberg, former Sounders FC star, has taken his act to Glasgow Celtics

Freddie Ljungberg, former Sounders FC star, has taken his act to Celtics

Goodbye Freddie Ljungberg.

Your skill and devotion to high standards graced X-Box Pitch and many other Major League Soccer spaces during your brief moment here on Planet MLS.

You made the Sounders better in its expansion year. You brought some European street-cred to the MLS. You gave young players mind-blowing standards to reach. You were uncompromising in your belief in how the game should be played.  You cling to a pure vision, a vision where technique rules over the biggest and fastest, a vision where the beauty of the game triumphs over the brawn.

For that, every Sounders fan, every Fire fan, every MLS fan, and every fan of the world’s game, should give you a big thank you and wish you well in your next endeavor with the Glasgow Celtics FC.

But your exit to Scotland feels incomplete. You leave without really showcasing the remarkable talent that you had honed over your years at Arsenal. True, you were older, peering at the downward glide scope of your career.

But your first year in Seattle rekindled a career that seemed over. Thanks also to the American surgeon who fixed your chronically ailing hip that gave you several more pain-free years of professional soccer.

You created moments of pure brilliance, moments of pure vision. But they were only fleeting moments punctuated too often by your arms flaying above your head, your mouth spewing Swedish invective at our poor (sometimes incompetent) referees, or worse, your own teammates.

It feels like you gave up. It feels like you gave up on the MLS. For all of your talk, for all of your boasting, it would have been helpful for your media-inspired image to back it up on the pitch more consistently than you did for Seattle and for Chicago. American sports fans deserved better.

And so you leave as another poster boy for the dangers of the designated-player rule, or commonly referred to as the “Beckham Experiment.”  Your two-year stint raises more questions than it answers: was the nearly $1.5 million in annual salary you received worth the return? Did your name-brand status (at least among aficionados) really boost the credibility of the league?

The answers are probably mixed. We wanted so much more from you than you were able to deliver.

And so off to Scottish Premier League leaders Celtic FC. Today, Ljungberg is expected to be introduced at a press conference — a fait accompli known for weeks.

So, as a Designated Player for two seasons, what did Ljungberg accomplish? He scored  four goals and recorded 20 assists with Seattle and Chicago. The 20 assists mean something. The stat indicates someone who has a keen sense of how to play the game, when to make the telling pass, and it indicates a selfless player–at least on the pitch.

Ljungberg’s departure has consequences for the Sounders. As part of the trade agreement, Seattle loses Chicago’s first-round draft pick (ninth overall) because the Fire did not re-sign Ljungberg. Instead, Seattle receives Chicago’s second-round pick (No. 27 overall) in the January MLS SuperDraft.

But, in the end, what fans will remember is a player who had a high opinion of himself and made sure everyone knew it — from the coach to the supporter in the seats. We could all see when Freddie was upset. And while he elevated the Sounders in the first year, he certainly brought them down in the second before management and Coach Sigi Schmid wisely traded the temperamental superstar.

And Freddie leaves Chicago without really giving the fans there a taste of his quality or the ability to see his commitment to the game.

Freddie, the enigma. I hate to see him go. Glad to see he’s gone.


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