Bukayo Saka paid tribute to former Arsenal mentor Freddie Ljungberg and thanked him for his text messages of support before preparing to play at 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 set-up and enjoyed a brief stint as caretaker manager in 2019 before parting ways with the club last summer.
The pair are still in close contact, however, with Ljungberg messaging his protege after watching Saka score his first international goal and the decisive winner in last week’s pre-tournament friendly against Austria at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium.
“He has been really good with me,” Saka said of Ljungberg. “From 14, when he took over my development, he challenged me in a way other coaches didn’t. He pushed me and saw my potential in a way other coaches didn’t.
“All the way to the under-23s he was still pushing me and even in the first team he was still helping me, even until today. He has had a big influence on my career.
“He says different things. Because he was a winger himself he had a lot of experience himself and learning points to give me.
“He texted me the other day when I scored. He wrote: ‘Congratulations, and make sure you pack a few things that you would do at home and that will keep yourself entertained’.
“Because we have a good team he said he thought we were going to go far and be here a long time, because we would have a lot of free time he wanted to make sure I would keep happy.
“It is not just the football side, he is a man who helps me with my personal life as well. He is such a top guy and I really appreciate that message from him.”
Southgate is known to be a huge admirer of Saka’s abilities, not least the versatility which has already seen him listed as both a defender and a forward on England’s squad lists since his first call-up in October.
The Arsenal youngster expects to be used as part of the attack at Euro 2020 and revealed that he has been taking up more advanced positions in training at St George’s Park this week but is ready to do a job wherever he is needed.
When asked whether he sees himself as a forward long-term, Saka said: “I don’t know. Anything can happen in football as we’ve seen in my career so far but I’m here as a forward I would say and that’s where I’m training.
“It probably is important [to nail down a position] but for now I can only focus on the tournament ahead of me and however they need me to win the tournament, that’s what I have to do.”