'Misunderstood' ex-Arsenal star Emmanuel Frimpong rebuilding career
ESKILSTUNA, Sweden -- Emmanuel Frimpong was feeling the back of his leg as he walked out of the home changing room after AFC Eskilstuna's latest home match.
A tweaked hamstring was the latest niggle in an injury-plagued few years for the former Arsenal midfielder. It's been a stop-start season in what has been a stop-start career so far for Frimpong.
The 25-year-old's latest appearance came on Sunday as a 74th-minute substitute against Hacken. Wearing the No. 20 shirt with "Frimmy" on the back, he snapped into tackles and brought some intensity to the low-tempo Swedish Allsvenskan match, which eventually finished 0-0.
It's that kind of physicality which led him to play for Arsenal's first team as a teenager -- he was memorably sent off against Liverpool on his first Premier League start in 2011. But terrible luck with injuries -- including two anterior cruciate ligament injuries before he was 21 -- have understandably had an effect.
"When I was younger I was much more explosive," he told ESPN FC. "Obviously when you have a couple of injuries it slows you down, your body starts to ache, you start getting these little niggles.
"You can't expect to be out injured for two, three years and come back and everything's just the same as how it was before you got injured. So it's just unlucky, but the world goes on I guess."
Those problems have contributed to a career path far removed from that early optimism for the Gunners. Frimpong made a total of just 16 appearances for the club after he graduated through the youth ranks -- though he stays in touch with his former Arsenal teammates and, as a fan, follows the team -- even watching Arsenal Fan TV sometimes.
Loan spells at Wolverhampton Wanderers, Charlton Athletic and Fulham preceded his permanent departure for Barnsley in 2014. And his move to Sweden this summer, after a spell playing in Russia with Ufa and the aptly named Arsenal Tula, came as something of a surprise. That it was to AFC Eskilstuna perhaps even more so.
Eskilstuna were promoted to Sweden's top division last season using the name AFC United and playing in Stockholm in front of just a few hundred supporters. After gaining promotion, they moved 100 kilometres west of the capital and changed their name. They now play on an astroturf pitch in a modern stadium which has a block of flats towering out of each corner. Crowds are bigger than in the club's previous home but are still the lowest in the division -- typically under 3,000.
After 10 matches, the team sits bottom of the table with no win and four draws. Frimpong has started a handful of those matches and, given how much football he has missed, has been enjoying the experience of being back out on the pitch, even if results haven't been ideal so far.
Any ambitions to move back to England to play, though, are not in his mind at the moment.
"My ambition is just to play football," he said. "No matter where it is, just to play football, because for the last couple of years I've missed so much football that I just want to get back playing and enjoying myself."
Frimpong clearly has a rapport with his teammates and, despite the losses so far, is enjoying the way of life in Eskilstuna, which has a population under 70,000.
"For me over here, this is something that I needed," he said. "Somewhere very quiet, somewhere where people do appreciate your efforts and love having you around."
Frimpong has often made headlines off the pitch in his career for things he has said and done, but he feels he has perhaps simply been too honest.
"I think I am misunderstood. People think I'm crazy and stuff but when you get to know me you'll see I'm a very different person," he said.
"They [players] feel like they can't really be open about how they really feel because people are then going to judge them, so most of the time when people get interviewed they have to just sit there and lie, just tell stories and lie about the situation they're going through and I think that's just a waste of time."
While the present and the future is about staying injury free for Eskilstuna, Frimpong has no regrets over where his career has taken him.
"I don't regret anything. For me, everything has gone much, much better than what I planned when I came to England. I was just a kid. I didn't come over to play football, I came to see my mum," he said.
"I ended up playing for the team that I love, the team that I support. For me that was even enough, just playing for Arsenal even if it was for one minute. I've played for my country [Ghana] so, for me, as a footballer, that's what you dream of, playing for the club you love and for your country.
"Already at 25 I've already experienced that, so for me obviously the dream goes on but there's nothing that I regret, because life is too short. You just have to enjoy yourself."
Follow @ESPNFC on Twitter to keep up with the latest football updates.