Freddie Ljungberg will notice that his heart is beating faster than usual on Friday night.
Not because he is nervous or worried about the result as England take on the USA at Al Bayt Stadium. But rather because his heart will burst with pride.
Two of his former players are going to compete here in Qatar and Ljungberg can’t take his eyes off it.
It will be a proud moment for Freddie Ljungberg (R) when Bukayo Saka (L) takes on Yunus Musah
Bukayo Saka, fresh off his brilliant brace in England’s opening game against Iran on Monday night, is expected to retain his place in the England squad.
On the other side of the field, his former Arsenal teammate Yunus Musah is expected to line up for the US.
Both are products of Arsenal’s Hale End academy. Both played for the same team under Ljungberg during the Gunners legend’s time as a youth coach with the Emirates.
It’s going to be a joyful evening for Ljungberg as two of his youngsters try to outsmart each other on the biggest stage of them all.
But as Ljungberg admits, it won’t be an ounce of emotion coursing through the veins of his former players tonight.
Midfielder Musah was previously at Arsenal’s academy before moving to Valencia in 2019
“For me it’s incredible to watch – it’s really cool,” Ljungberg shared Sports mail.
“But for them it will be so much bigger and better. It is a special day for both of them. It’s great to see two players from the Arsenal academy playing together from the age of 14 or 15 until 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 fast things can go in football.”
Saka and Musah’s career paths are contrasting. Saka is Arsenal’s crown jewel, coming out of their youth set-up to become arguably their most important player.
Musah didn’t quite make it at the Emirates Stadium and left for Valencia in 2019 without making a first-team appearance.
Saka made an excellent start to the World Cup as he scored a brace for England against Iran
That said, the departure from North London has been the foundation for Musah, who has made 81 senior appearances for the La Liga team. For a 19-year-old, that is quite exceptional.
Not that Ljungberg ever doubted that Musah would become a top player. He saw it right away.
“Yunus was assigned some age groups to play on 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 a shame that Arsenal let him go.
“That’s how the world works 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 huge source of inspiration for me.
Ljungberg saw Saka’s development as the youngster broke into the Arsenal first team
Musah often played above his age group for Arsenal and is now a key player for the US
“One day he showed us an ‘Invincibles’ movie. It was incredible to see what they achieved.’
There was a moment when Saka and Musah could have been England teammates too.
The Football Association made every effort to persuade Musah, who has represented England up to Under-18 level, to pledge his senior allegiance to the Three Lions amid interest from across the Atlantic.
At one point the FA thought they had sent the US to the post, only for Musah to confirm his decision to reject England in November 2020.
England’s loss has been the US’s gain, Musah is a key player for Greg Berhalter’s team.
Gareth Southgate shouldn’t be too disappointed – he’s got Saka.
Musah represented England to under-18s, but he then chose to represent the US
“They took one of us that we weren’t too happy with! ,” Southgate said.
“It was a strange situation with Yunus, because he was really with our Under-19s. We went into the pandemic so it was not possible to see games and travel.
“But in the end you have to go with your heart. He is very good at moving the ball and passing people. He’s a player we have to respect.’
However, for Ljungberg, he never doubted that both would live up to their potential.
“Both think ahead – always positive,” added Ljungberg.
‘Always listen. Always trying to make things better. They never blame anyone but themselves.’