Martin Jol compared him to Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart. Johan Cruyff put his talent in the same ilk as Michael and Brian Laudrup. Pat Nevin recently gushed over his “totally world-class, computer-like brain”. Yet ask a growing section of the home faithful to assign words to Christian Eriksen, and they may as well be describing British weather: inconsistent, unpredictable, and exhibiting a tendency to blow hot and cold.
Son did shine against Newcastle last weekend, but it was a lacklustre showing from Eriksen that triggered a torrential downpour of questions: Has he fully recovered from that niggling stomach injury? Has rumours of a move to Real Madrid turned his head? Is he truly indispensable à la Kane or Sissoko (I’m only half-joking about the latter).
Since joining Spurs some five-and-a-half years ago Eriksen has faced questions about his importance to this team at every turn, pass, and corner that’s been cleared by the first man. Those unsubscribed to the Maestro from Middlefart Fan Club insist it’s a case of promise unfulfilled for a player once prophesied to be the heir-apparent to Michael Laudrup; while even those enamoured with the unassuming Dane can’t deny they’re still left wanting more.
Fellow countryman Kasper Schmeichel echoed this insatiable desire in a recent interview. “[Christian] has ability beyond words with a football,” Schmeichel extolled. “He’s probably the best player I’ve ever played with. His football intelligence is just off the scale. His passing ability is amazing.
“And yet the thing that I always have a go at him about is that he’s got no ego. It’s comical. He is probably the most Danish man in the world… I tell him, ‘Mate, if you had a bit more ego about you, then you could score every single game’.”
Lamenting Eriksen’s lack of killer instinct sees Leicester’s keeper and Spurs supporters share the same sentiment. Of course, it’s well within football fans’ intrinsic nature to never be wholly content regardless of previous successes — one need only see the Santiago Bernabéu reverberate with boos following one poor result as an example of this — but can Eriksen really contribute more, or do we ask too much?
In 193 Premier League appearances he has been involved in 101 goals (45 scored; 56 assists), seen only Hazard make more key passes than him since the start of last season, and frequently tops the list of distance covered by Premier League players season after season. If number 10s are designed to be luxury players, God gifted Eriksen ability and unlimited Duracell battery life.
But to better understand Eriksen’s impact on this Tottenham team, you need only to compare his fortunes to whom he shares his song with. When the Dane arrived in England in 2013 he was unwittingly pitted against a playmaker of similar flair — one representing the wrong half of north London. In the time since, Eriksen has become an essential cog in a team surging towards glory; conversely, Mesut Ozil has been ostracised from a struggling rabble marooned in a Europa League-doomed vortex.
Is it a mere happenstance that Arsenal and Tottenham’s very own Trading Places adaptation coincided with both of these players’ arrivals? Maybe so. But while the hype surrounding Ozil survives, Eriksen remains under the radar. It’s an oddity in itself, considering that while Arsenal fans accuse Ozil of shirking effort when the going gets tough, the same can never be said of the indefatigable Eriksen: style and substance prevails more often than not.
It’s likely then that reservations of referring to Eriksen as one of Tottenham’s key players is primarily down to his modest, reserved demeanour. As well as perfection, fans demand players who display the volatile, intense emotions they themselves experience over the 90 minutes — this is something this detached Dane cannot do.
There’s a consensus that, like Luka Modric, Eriksen’s contributions will only be fully recognised after he departs for sunnier climes: a true case of you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. But with his manager stating he affords Eriksen the same “freedom and trust” as his beloved dog, maybe it’s time for fans to do the same, and cherish a player who is unequivocally a different breed to his contemporaries.
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