It has been a real joy to watch Christian Eriksen’s progress at Spurs over the past six years, from a much-hyped 21-year old who often flattered to deceive, to a 27-year old who runs the most kilometres nearly every week, almost single-handled controls the tempo of our play, and creates the most chances for our team year on year on year.
If he goes, it is with the blessing of most Spurs fans. He’s literally put those hard yards in, he’s stuck around through a period of ‘nearly’ winning stuff, and he’s won the Tottenham Hotspur Player of the Year award twice, in the 2013/14 and 2016/17 seasons (more on that later).
Eriksen is arguably at a level akin to Philippe Coutinho; elite at a club like Spurs, but with question marks over whether he’s good enough to become a Galáctico.
Presumably, this is why Real Madrid are still deciding whether to firm up their interest with an offer that Spurs cannot refuse. I can’t help but feel, though, that Eriksen is so outstanding technically and has such footballing vision that he would slot in effortlessly, as Luka Modrić did before him, to become the almost-mechanical creator that we have seen him be at his best.
Eriksen has progressed through three distinct roles at Spurs. Initially, he was used as an advanced play-maker, either from the left or behind the striker. He was largely free of defensive responsibility and given freedom to roam about the pitch, and he ended up where the space was.
He was then shifted to playing primarily from the right, often with Dele or Son Heung-min playing on the left. This resulted in one of Spurs’ most well-known attacking moves in the 2016/17 season, where Eriksen would spot the run of Dele from out-to-in and deliver a perfect pass or cross to allow him to get a shot away first-time. This had particular success against Chelsea in January 2017, where Spurs won 2-0 from two near-identical Dele headers from Eriksen crosses.
And last season he was often playing as a third central midfielder, doing a lot of leg-work, and being the provider for the attacking players rather than being one of the main attacking players himself. Spurs had sold and not replaced Mousa Dembélé, and no longer had firm control of midfield in many of their matches and had to try to compensate. Eriksen was at his best with Dembélé in the team and it was his performances in 2016/17 that still stand out to me.
Harry Kane scored 35 goals in all competitions and yet it was Eriksen that won the award.
Dembélé was imperious throughout the season, often alongside the newly-signed Victor Wanyama and yet it was Eriksen that won the award. Kyle Walker and Danny Rose became the envy of every other club as attacking full-backs, Dele and Son scored more than 20 goals each from midfield, Toby Alderweireld had a near-immaculate season at centre-half. And yet it was Christian Eriksen that won the award.
He managed 12 goals and 23 assists in all competitions that year and was the catalyst for so much of our sparkling attacking play. He would chase down the ball and help to force an error, wait for Dembélé to retrieve possession and wriggle free to create space, take the ball from the Belgian on the half-turn and then find the forwards with through-balls, feathery clips over the top to on-rushing teammates, or perfectly-weighted crosses.
In 2018/19 it was clear that Eriksen missed Dembélé tremendously. He was shifted deeper in an attempt to share out the responsibility for helping to maintain control of the ball, to dictate the tempo; he became more metronomic. Not only did this restrict the amount of risks he could take in possession, but it meant he was receiving the ball much deeper, and that had an impact on our ability to attack at speed — not necessarily speed in terms of running fast, but speed in terms of seeing things, and moving the ball forward quickly.
If Eriksen were to end up staying at Spurs, the signing of Tanguy Ndombele would be such a blessing for him. Ndombele would likely play on the right of a midfield three or as one of a double-pivot, meaning that Eriksen could once again be pushed forward into the half-space, released a little from the shackles of the last season, and given creative license to focus on picking the pocket of the deep midfielders and making his clever, early passes to our forwards.
The ideal summer outcome for us is that Eriksen signs a contract and has another crack at winning trophies at Spurs.
But if he is to go we’re going to struggle to replace him – so unique that he is – and we will have to accept a different type of midfielder; perhaps Dani Ceballos or Giovani Lo Celso, who are both incredibly talented but have different skill sets that don’t quite have the artful eye of our magician from Middelfart.