If Tottenham Hotspur’s recent struggles have been embodied by one player and if the malaise that seems to have eroded the very foundations of all that Mauricio Pochettino has built at the club can be found in the (mis)fortunes of one figure, it’s Christian Eriksen.
Indeed, the Dane has been almost unrecognisable from his old self this season.
Once a hub of irrepressible creative energy, Eriksen has in recent weeks lacked everything that not so long ago made him special. Even when Spurs have rediscovered a semblance of their old identity, like in the improved performance against Liverpool on Sunday, Eriksen has toiled.
Tottenham might have held on to a point or three at Anfield had the Dane performed his role as designed.
Ajax fans might find this Eriksen not so unrecognisable, though.
These are apparently the sort of performances the playmaker turned in over the course of his final season in Amsterdam, once he’d decided to seek a new challenge. In that, there are parallels to be drawn, with Eriksen expected to leave Spurs either in January or at the end of the campaign.
Parallels can also be drawn with another stylish playmaker performing well below par in North London.
Mesut Ozil finds himself in a similar situation to Eriksen, although Arsenal are being more active in their efforts to push their highest-paid player out of the club. Nonetheless, these two players should be central pillars for their respective clubs, but instead, they have become unwanted and immaterial.
Pochettino himself was candid in admitting transfer speculation had affected Eriksen towards the end of the summer window, when a move was still on the cards.
“It’s not the best situation for him [Eriksen] and for everyone,” he explained at the time. “You cannot put a finger on the problem. You must try to minimalize the problem, try to treat the situation. This is an important player who needs to help the team with his performances.”
Such sentiment has only been exacerbated further in the time since.
There is an unavoidable sense that this season represents a period of transition for Spurs under Pochettino.
While the run to the final of last season’s Champions League was initially seen as the start of an era at the top level of the sport for the North London club, now it looks more like the end of a cycle.
Eriksen also saw it as the end of a personal cycle, making it clear after the defeat to Liverpool in Madrid that he wanted to leave Spurs.
The Dane has his heart set on a move to Spain, with Real Madrid long-term suitors of the 27-year-old. He was denied his dream transfer in the summer, but still harbours hope that a move might materialise in January or when his contract expires at the end of the season.
But what about Eriksen’s recent performances will convince Real Madrid that returning for the Dane would be worthwhile? Rather than forcing his way out of Spurs, Eriksen may well be restricting his options for when the time finally comes for him to depart.
If he continues in this vein his dream move to Spain will remain just that – a dream.
In Eriksen and Ozil, Spurs and Arsenal respectively boast two great assets. In terms of natural ability, there are few in the Premier League with the talent of these two.
But they have both, in slightly different ways but to the same ends, become a weight around the neck of their manager.
Eriksen and Ozil are capable of so much better, yet there’s so much preventing them from showing so.
This is a sad decline for two of the most naturally talented players to have ever played in the Premier League, but the reality that they are now a hindrance rather than a help to their respective clubs is unavoidable.
It would be best for all parties concerned to move on and start anew. For Spurs, that fresh start can’t come soon enough.
Eriksen isn’t the only one who desires a blank canvas.