It’s Tuesday evening in my hotel room in Copenhagen and I am about to speak to Arsenal manager Jonas Eidevall for his pre-match press conference prior to the match against HB Koge. 24 hours earlier, I had spoken to Gunners midfielder Frida Maanum, who has become an instant hit with the new coach. Frida and Jonas both joined Arsenal this summer from the Swedish Damallsvenskan- Jonas from Rosengard and Frida from Linkopings- but neither knew the other would be at the club upon signing.
Frida described the presence of Jonas to me as “a pleasant surprise” for her. I put this to Eidevall who smiles, sits back in his chair and says, “This is a true story, when I was interviewed by Arsenal for the position, one of the questions they asked me was, ‘if you could buy three midfielders in the world, who would they be?’ I mentioned Frida as one of my three and they laughed because they had already signed her.”
At 22, Maanum, widely considered one of Scandinavia’s prime talents, was ready to take the next step in her career and there were a host of clubs willing to provide that platform. The Norwegian represented her country at Euro 2017 aged just 18 after all. Her winning goal against Wales in October 2020 ensured Norway will play at the Euros in England next summer too. I ask Frida what made her choose Arsenal when clubs courted her earlier this year.
“There were a few clubs interested but when Arsenal got in contact with me and my agent, it felt right from the beginning. Arsenal is a huge club with big players and this felt like a big step in my career. They play really good football too and always have done, they play football that really suits me and that’s why I chose Arsenal.”
One of the interested clubs was fellow WSL side Everton, who already have five highly rated Scandinavians in their squad. The irony was not lost on (now former) Toffees boss Willie Kirk when Maanum smashed a golaço into the top corner against his side last month. “I know how good a player she is because I wanted to bring her to the club so it didn’t surprise me,” a resigned Kirk said. “I think it was a done deal and for whatever reason we never managed to get it over the line.”
— Arsenal Women (@ArsenalWFC) October 10, 2021
Frida admits that she was very close to joining Everton prior to Arsenal’s involvement in the race to procure her signature, “I was really close to signing for them but nothing was done. I was close but that is just how football is sometimes.” Maanum quickly found an ally in Eidevall, who had seen her performances up close in the Damallsvenskan.
“He hadn’t been appointed yet when I agreed to join but I was really happy when he did, I knew him a bit from the Swedish league and we had spoken a couple of times at games but we didn’t really know each other but I knew all about his football of course. He has been great for me here. It’s nice to have a coach who speaks a language you are more familiar with and it makes you feel safer in the beginning and he knows me well as a player too, which has really helped.”
Eidevall came to Arsenal with a brief to turn them from more of a patient possession team to a high pressing unit. Only Beth Mead averages more pressures per 90 (per FBRef) in the Arsenal squad than Frida so far this season. “Jonas wants to play a more aggressive style of football, with the defence staying higher and with more high pressure.
“There are positives and negatives to every style but Jonas has come in with really clear principles, he knows what he wants from us and we know what he wants too and you can see that in the results. I am a player who wants to be aggressive, stay high and press all the time so the playing style really suits me- it suits a lot of our players.”
Maanum has a reputation as a true all-rounder in midfield but in Sweden and her native Norway, she was known as more of an attacking midfielder- on balance. At Arsenal, she has played as both an eight and as a six. I ask her whether she had played the six role prior to coming to Arsenal, “I’ve never played as a six before so I have had to adapt a little but any role is what you make it.
“I’m quite an offensive player but you can make that role offensive as well by being on the front foot and playing lots of forward passes. I’ve had some fun with it!” Last weekend against West Ham, Maanum put on an absolute clinic of cross field passing, completing 11 of 13 long passes and moving the ball into the final third on ten occasions. Her pass for Beth Mead in the build-up to Kim Little’s opener was particularly special.
The footwork. The composure. The finish.
Classic #CaptainLittle 😍
— Arsenal Women (@ArsenalWFC) November 8, 2021
“Jonas tells me to play forwards as much as possible, it’s always been in my game but the coaches are really encouraging me so that’s what I want to do all the time.” I put a similar question to Jonas about Frida’s passing range, especially in the recent West Ham game, “It’s very important when we play a compact team and they try to be compact around the ball,” Eidevall explains.
“We need to have a speed to our play that means we can exploit the spaces that the opponent isn’t in. The way Frida was playing those cross field passes was spot on. It really helps us but it’s not easy to do because, first, you have to have the vision and then you need to know when to do it, to see when there is space and not just switching the play for the sake of it.
“The first goal in the West Ham game is a nice example because she finds Beth, who has run into space behind the defence. She has the scan before she gets the ball to see that pass and we score from that situation because Frida has played the ball into space.” It’s not just the Norwegian’s passing range that has caught the eye during her short Arsenal career either. Maanum’s shot packs a hearty wallop and she jokes that her long-range strike against Everton was not before time.
— Arsenal Women (@ArsenalWFC) September 12, 2021
“It was a relief because I had tried a lot of shots from outside the box without scoring! It was a really nice feeling, I felt that when I struck the ball that it was going in.” The 22-year-old has adapted to life on the pitch instantly, having left her native Norway for Sweden as a teenager, she is no stranger to being away from home, but moving from Scandinavia to London represents a different leap for a person defined by her demureness.
“It’s a big step. In the beginning it was hard and I missed my family because I am so much further away from them and it’s hard for them to come over because of covid. The girls have been amazing though and so have the coaches and it’s gotten easier.” On the pitch, Maanum is an assertive, powerful presence, she was named captain of Linkoping last season when she was just 21-years old.
“That was a big responsibility for me, I am maybe not the person that talks the most but I always want what’s best for the team and I think that’s why they chose me. I had been there for a few years, being captain was a big experience for me and something I really learned a lot from.” The Damallsvenskan has long been a rich seam of talent in women’s football.
My Instagram Story… with @FMaanum 👋
Hosted by our very own @PattenAnna ☺️
Wholesome content right here 👇 pic.twitter.com/FCCkptdQJH
— Arsenal Women (@ArsenalWFC) July 27, 2021
It was Swedish powerhouse Umea that Arsenal overcame in the 2007 Champions League Final. Brazilian legend Marta spent so much of her career there that she is a Swedish citizen and fluent Swedish speaker. Sweden’s national team have won silver medals at the two most recent Olympic Games. However, Frida believes, as many do, that the Damallsvenskan has become a primer of talent before selling it on to France, Germany or England.
“The Swedish league has developed some of the best players in the world, at Linkopings they had Magdalena Eriksson and Pernille Harder (of Chelsea). Right now it is more of a development league, it’s the kind of place players come before they make the move to the really big clubs in the bigger leagues. It was like that for me too, I played there for four years before coming to England. Linkopings play really good football like Arsenal do, it prepared me to come here.”
Frida’s appetite for development remains as keen as ever now that she has moved to the WSL, “It’s the final third for me, that’s where I need to get stronger,” she says. “I need to make more assists and score more goals. I have tried to develop that for many years, I want to be more creative and create chances for my teammates.” When it comes to her development as an all-round midfield player, she could scarcely ask for better a better rolemodel than her captain Kim Little.
“She is so professional,” Frida says, lengthening to ‘so’ for emphasis. “She gives absolutely everything in every training session, it’s so inspiring, she is always so good in the games and she does everything really. I already knew she was a great player but she’s an even better person. Kim is a great leader because she puts the team first. I’ve learned so much from her and I hope to continue to over the next few years.”
At 22, Frida Maanum already looks like the finished article, the thought of her developing further is, frankly, intimidating.
With thanks to @miedemastuff for the header graphic.