Bukayo Saka paid tribute to former Arsenal mentor Freddie Ljungberg and thanked him for his supportive texts before preparing to play his first international tournament with England at Euro 2020.
The 19-year-old credits much of his development to Ljungberg, who worked as a coach in Arsenal’s youth squad and enjoyed a brief stint as interim manager in 2019 before parting ways with the club last summer.
The pair are still in close contact, however, with Ljungberg sending a message to his protégé after seeing Saka score his first international goal and the decisive winner in last week’s pre-tournament friendly against Austria at Riverside. Middlesbrough Stadium.
“He’s been really good to me,” Saka said of Ljungberg. “From the age of 14, when he took charge of my development, he challenged me in a way other coaches didn’t.
“Until I was under 23, he always pushed me and even in the first team he always helped me, even until today. He was a big influence on my career.
“He said different things. Because he was a winger himself, he had a lot of experience and learning points to give me himself.
“He texted me the other day when I scored. He wrote, ‘Congratulations, and make sure you pack a few things you would do around the house that will keep you entertained’.
“Because we have a good team, he said he thought we were going to go far and stay here for a long time because we would have a lot of free time, he wanted to make sure that I would stay happy.
“It’s not just the football side, he’s a man who also helps me in my personal life. He’s such a great guy and I really appreciate that message from him.”
Southgate is known to be a great admirer of Saka’s abilities, especially the versatility which has already seen him appear as both a defender and a striker on the England squad’s rosters since his first call-up in October.
The Arsenal youngster expects to be used as part of the Euro 2020 attack and has revealed that he has held more advanced positions in training at St George’s Park this week, but that he was ready to do work where it was needed.
When asked if he considers himself a long-term striker, Saka said: “I don’t know. Anything can happen in football as we have seen in my career so far, but I am here as a striker I would say and this is where I train.
“It is probably important [to nail down a position] but right now I can only focus on the tournament ahead of me and yet they need me to win the tournament, that’s what I have to do. “