Christian Eriksen: Danish catalyst in an English project

With the departure of Gareth Bale, Tottenham Hotspur lacked a catalyst in their ambitious André Villas-Boas-inspired project. While Spurs are most definitely not “there” yet, they have seemingly picked up a player this past summer who will – I have no doubt about this – prove to be THE player to take their project forward, if the Danish international is given time to adapt and grow.

Step forward – Christian Eriksen.

 

Earning his Spurs at Ajax:

Hailed as a huge talent in his homeland as a teenager, Eriksen had trials with a number of clubs, such as Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester United. There was talent there, no doubt about that, but without the right coaching, talent is nothing. Where better to sharpen the tools of his playmaking trade than in Amsterdam?

“I came to Chelsea, the first time at 14, a little kid. I went to Chelsea a second time, and AC Milan and Barcelona. We talked with the sports director at Odense and all thought that the Dutch league would be the best with my style. Of course when you mean Dutch, you mean Ajax. When Ajax came in it was ‘boom’, right away.”

“My first step should not be too big. I knew that playing in the Netherlands would be very good for my development. Then Ajax arrived and that was a fantastic option.”

– Eriksen on his decision to join Ajax

As with being a seemingly prodigious Danish youngster, Eriksen was labelled “The Next Michael Laudrup”. Rather than be crushed by the pressure of such a tag, Eriksen has risen above it and is now well on his way to realising his immense potential.

2.5 years after joining the Dutch giants, Eriksen, with the number 51 on his back, made his 1st-team debut in January 2010 against NAC Breda. Impressing with his displays for Ajax in the 2nd half of the 2009/10 campaign, the young Dane was called-up to Denmark’s squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals.

Over the course of his time at Ajax, Eriksen took on increasing responsibility with each passing year, picking up an invaluable “winning mentality” as Ajax won a plethora of domestic – 3 consecutive Eredivisie, 1 KNVB Beker & 1 Johan Cruyff Schaal – titles and participated in the UEFA Champions League in each of those years.

It cannot be emphasised enough how important a winning mentality is in successful teams, even more so in the development of up-and-coming promising youngsters. It instils the insatiable hunger to win that the top players have, where they are already looking towards their next win after winning a match, their next trophy after winning a trophy.

Individually, Eriksen was named, among a plethora of other awards, Dutch Footballer of the Year in 2011 and Danish Footballer of the Year in 2011 and 2013. With regard to the international stage, Eriksen was fast-tracked through the Danish set-up, moving from the U17s to the senior squad within the short space of 3 years.

A particular highlight of his rise is his Man-Of-The-Match display against England in a 1-2 home loss. The young Dane was widely praised, including by more established names like Morten Olsen, Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard.

With a year left on his contract, Eriksen decided that the time was right for him to leave the Eredivisie and Ajax to take a step up the footballing ladder. Linked with numerous clubs – inclusive of AC Milan, Liverpool, Chelsea, Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund et al – over the years, Andre Villas-Boas’ project at an ambitious Tottenham Hotspur was the one Eriksen chose to hop aboard.

 

Potential impact at Tottenham Hotspur:

With the departure of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid, AVB’s project needed a new focal point, a new playmaker. This is where Christian Eriksen comes in. The young Dane has proved in the Eredivisie and, mainly in his last year at Ajax, the Champions League that he has both the technical ability and Football intelligence to possibly become 1 of the best playmakers in World Football over the next decade or so.

Eriksen’s numbers at Ajax, where he predominantly played as a Number 10, are impressive. After 1 goal and 1 assist in 21 senior appearances in his debut season (2009/10), Eriksen proceeded to score 8 and assist 16 in 47 games the following season.

A 19-year-old Eriksen didn’t stop there, pushing on to score 8 goals and provide 22 assists in his 2nd full season at 1st-team level in 2011/12. 2012/13, his last full year at Ajax, nicely rounded off his time at the Amsterdam giants with 13 goals scored and 23 assists in a total of 46 appearances.

Along the way, Eriksen also scored 3 goals and provided 6 assists in 39 appearances for Denmark at senior level, making his aforementioned World Cup debut in 2010 and also playing in all of his nation’s matches at the UEFA European Championship in 2012.

Whilst he most often played as a Number 10 at Ajax, Eriksen has the potential to be rather versatile, even playing as a False 9 on a number of occasions under Frank de Boer. While a False 9 will seemingly not be utilised at White Hart Lane, it does give AVB another tactical possibility.

Yes, there’s more-or-less no chance that we’ll see Eriksen play as a False 9 at Spurs, but put it this way – Would you say no to having a extra $10/$20/$50 in your pocket? Exactly.

Looking at the current Spurs squad, I’d confidently say that none of the other players can bring to the table what Eriksen can offer. Gylfi Sigurdsson is a good attacking midfielder, but is much more of a goalscoring threat than a creative playmaker. Lewis Holtby, while being an intelligent midfielder and a fine player in his own right, does not have Eriksen’s vision and technical excellence.

Nacer Chadli, who is an interesting attacker, has been utilised out wide since joining the club, and it seems certain that that will be his predominant role at Spurs. Erik Lamela has impressed hugely at Roma and I believe he’ll eventually prove to be a success at White Hart Lane, but he’d be more of a partner to Eriksen than a direct competitor.

The prospect of the Dane and Argentine dovetailing into a formidable, incisive and classy playmaking partnership is certainly one that Villas-Boas will have had on his mind since Spurs signed them this part summer. Right from the off, Eriksen is nailed on to be a regular starter at Spurs.

After their transfer movements in the summer, Spurs now have a very good and potentially title-winning squad. The foundations are there for them to push on, onwards and upwards, and cement their place at the top table of English Football as 1 of the perennial title contenders from here on out.

Whilst the sale of Gareth Bale has indeed been a blow to Spurs’ side, they now have a much stronger and more well-balanced squad – from Hugo Lloris to Jan Vertonghen, from Paulinho & Sandro to Eriksen & Lamela.

What Spurs need is to replace their previous catalyst – Gareth Bale – with another. Eriksen is precisely THE player to step in and fill that void. Eriksen knows when to hold onto the ball and try a dribble, when to delay or quicken playing a pass for a split-second when splitting a defence, when to play a simple sideways pass to keep the ball moving and when he should play a long pass to switch the play and stretch the opposition defence.

In short, he has “it”. By “it”, I mean the level of Football intelligence that is required to play in the upper echelons of the Beautiful Game. With his technical excellence and sublime Football intelligence, Eriksen has the potential and ability to be the catalyst that to push Tottenham from challenging for UEFA Champions League Football to going beyond that and fight for the English Premier League title.

Though he hasn’t yet truly taken flight and dominated games, there have been glimpses of his potential ability at Spurs. The goals that Sigurdsson scored against Norwich City and Chelsea in September were created by brilliance on the part of Eriksen and, against Chelsea, Roberto Soldado. There were signs of a potentially brilliant playmaker-striker partnership between Eriksen and his Spanish team-mate Soldado.

On his debut, Eriksen was mesmeric against Norwich City. Floating between the lines and orchestrating Spurs’ play, he delivered a sublime performance and also played in Sigurdsson for the Icelandic midfielder’s goal.

As if that weren’t enough for a debut display, the Dane also provided a “secondary assist”, playing in Paulinho out wide, with Sigurdsson slotting home to seal a 2-0 home win from the Brazilian’s cross. Cue the inevitable standing ovation that Eriksen received from the White Hart Lane faithful when he was subbed off by AVB.

“It was a great debut (vs Norwich City) for Christian, he is a pure number 10, a creative player and his individual quality made all the difference.”

– Andre Villas-Boas on Christian Eriksen

Though Eriksen is currently out injured, having suffered an injury whilst on international duty with Denmark, I firmly believe that these last few months of being in and out of Villas-Boas’ Starting XI will prove to be merely a stepping stone to being 1 of the premier playmakers of the English Premier League.

The talent is there. All Eriksen needs is patience and time to make his mark, then we’ll see the “real” Eriksen. The Christian Eriksen whose star shone so so brightly at the Amsterdam ArenA.

The likes of Ruud Gullit, Ronald Koeman and Dennis Bergkamp are previous winners of the Johan Cruyff Award (Dutch POTY). Likewise, Mateja Kezman, who proved to be a flop signing for Chelsea, has also won it. Will Christian Eriksen prove to be another Mateja Kezman, Afonso Alves or another Dennis Bergkamp, Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder? Time will tell. I’d trust Johan Cruyff’s words.

“He’s a player I really like with all my heart. This prize(Dutch Football Talent of the Year) is just the beginning, a stimulus to get the maximum out of his career. The talent is there, the recognition also; now it is up to the player himself. He is a typical product of the Danish school. You can compare him with Brian and Michael Laudrup. Only time will tell if Eriksen can reach the same level as them.”

– Johan Cruyff on Christian Eriksen

 

Written by Mark Ooi

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkOoiZW

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