A Footballer Undressed

As Jim Palmer, Joe Namath and others have proved, male athletes in America can get away with taking their trousers off in ads. In England, it’s a dicier proposition, as Swedish soccer star Freddie Ljungberg may soon find out.

Ljungberg, 26, who plays for Arsenal in London and was once described by the Mirror as “the greatest hit to come out of Halmstad, Sweden, since pop duo Roxette,” is being introduced globally as Calvin Klein’s new underwear model— a privileged post held in the past by the likes of Mark Wahlberg and Kate Moss. “He’s not just a pretty face. He’s got the perfect body to match,” a CK rep says. True enough. But will the market segment that’s most familiar with Freddie—English football fans—take as kind a view of such emasculating extracurriculars? This is an audience, after all, that once responded to one of David Beckham’s side projects by inquiring—in the form of songs and chants during matches—whether Posh Spice was partial to a certain sex act that is illegal in 14 U.S. states and Puerto Rico.

Even if he does suffer some verbal abuse, there’s a significant upside for Ljungberg, says Lisa Marsh, author of the newly released The House of Klein: Fashion, Controversy, and a Business Obsession. “Calvin Klein is very successful at taking someone who is not very well known and capitalizing on their looks, their personality, their mannerisms, and turning them into a household name,” she says. “And that’s probably what will happen with this guy.”