EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Freddie Ljungberg talks about his pride with Bukayo Saka to face Yunus Musah

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Freddie Ljungberg talks about his pride with Bukayo Saka to face Yunus Musah

Freddie Ljungberg will find his heart beating faster than usual on Friday night.

Not because he is nervous or anxious about the result when England go out to face the USA at Al Bayt Stadium. But rather because his heart will burst with pride.

It's set to be a proud moment for Freddie Ljungberg (R) when Bukayo Saka (L) takes on Yunus Musah

It’s set to be a proud moment for Freddie Ljungberg (R) when Bukayo Saka (L) takes on Yunus Musah

Two of his former players are set to go head-to-head here in Qatar and Ljungberg won’t be able to take his eyes off it.

Fresh from his brilliant brace in England’s opening game win over Iran on Monday night, Bukayo Saka is expected to retain his place in the England squad.

At the opposite end of the pitch, his former Arsenal teammate Yunus Musah is expected to feature for the United States.

Both are products of Arsenal’s Hale End academy. Both played under Ljungberg for the same team during the Gunners legend’s time as youth coach at the Emirates.

It will be a joyful evening for Ljungberg as two of his newborns try to outwit each other on the biggest stage of all.

But as Ljungberg admits, there will be no band-aid for the emotions that will run through his former players’ veins this evening.

Midfielder Musah was previously at Arsenal's academy before leaving for Valencia in 2019

Midfielder Musah was previously at Arsenal’s academy before leaving for Valencia in 2019

– For me it’s incredible to see – it’s a very cool thing, said Ljungberg to Sportsmail.

“But for them it will be so much bigger and better. It is a special day for both of them. It’s amazing to see two Arsenal academy players who played with each other from the age of 14 or 15 to now playing against each other at 19 and 21 for two different countries and on the biggest stage of the World Cup. .

“The steps they have taken compared to five or six years ago show how quickly things can go in football.”

Saka and Musah’s career paths are contrasting. Saka is Arsenal’s jewel in the crown – emerging from the youth set-up to become arguably their most important player.

Musah didn’t quite make the grade at the Emirates Stadium, leaving for Valencia in 2019 without making a first-team appearance.

Saka got off to an excellent start to the World Cup when he scored a brace for England against Iran

Saka got off to an excellent start to the World Cup when he scored a brace for England against Iran

That said, leaving north London has been the premise for Musah, who has made 81 senior appearances for the La Liga outfit. For a 19-year-old, that is quite exceptional.

Not that Ljungberg ever doubted that Musah would become a top player. He spotted it right away.

“Yunus was put up a couple of age groups to play in the team with Bukayo because I thought he had the talent,” the Swede recalled.

“He was a bit younger and worked very hard. Yunus left when I went to Germany, which was sad that Arsenal let him go.

“That’s the way the world is and it’s nice to see him making a name for himself.”

For Musah, the feelings are mutual.

“Freddie Ljungberg was a great coach, a great inspiration for me,” the striker said on Wednesday.

Ljungberg saw Saka's development when the youngster broke into Arsenal's first team

Ljungberg saw Saka’s development when the youngster broke into Arsenal’s first team

Musah often played above his age group for Arsenal and is now a key player for the United States

Musah often played above his age group for Arsenal and is now a key player for the United States

“One day he made us watch an ‘Invincibles’ movie. It was amazing to see what they achieved.’

There was a time when Saka and Musah could also have been England teammates.

The Football Association tried hard to persuade Musah, who represented England up to U18 level, to pledge his senior allegiance to the Three Lions amid interest from across the Atlantic.

Musah represented England up to U-18 level, but he then chose to represent the United States

Musah represented England up to U-18 level, but he then chose to represent the United States

At one point the FA believed they had transferred the USA to the position only for Musah to confirm his decision to turn England in November 2020.

England’s loss has been the USA’s gain, Musah is a key player for Greg Berhalter’s team.

Gareth Southgate shouldn’t be too disappointed – he has Saka.

“They took one of ours which we weren’t too happy about! ,’ Southgate said.

“With Yunus it was a strange situation because he was in our U19s. We entered the pandemic so it was not possible to watch games and travel.

“But in the end you have to go with your heart. He is very good at getting the ball out and running past people. He is a player we have to respect.

For Ljungberg, however, there was never any doubt that both would fulfill their potential.

“Both think ahead – always positive,” added Ljungberg.

“Always listens. Always trying to make things better. They never blame anyone but themselves.’

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