Christian Eriksen Running Short of Options for Future Away From Spurs
"In my mind I have had the following list for a long time: Ajax-Arsenal-Barcelona. Call it the Marc Overmars route,” Frenkie de Jong said this past week. “But then again, if you can go directly to Barcelona, then you are right where you want to be. Faster than you ever dared to dream.”
It is six years since another elegant Ajax midfield graduate decided to leave in search of his fortune, opting for north London after helping to secure a third successive Eredivisie title under Frank de Boer. Christian Eriksen, born in Middelfart – a small town at the gateway to Funen, Denmark’s third-largest island – had arrived in the Dutch capital as a teenager in 2008, spurning interest from, among others, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United to continue Ajax’s tradition of developing top Danish talent. He was spotted playing for Odense’s youth team by John Steen Olsen, the celebrated Scandinavian scout whose long list of discoveries includes Søren Lerby, Jan Molby and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. His latest protégé fulfilled the early promise by becoming the youngest player to appear at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
In stark contrast to De Jong’s generation Ajax struggled to compete with Europe’s elite under De Boer and exited the Champions League at the group stages in three successive seasons between 2010-11 and 2012-13, by which time Eriksen had indicated it was time to move on, having allowed his contract to enter its final 12 months. Tottenham, flush with money from the world-record £85m sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid, signed the 21-year-old for £11m – one of seven signings by André Villas-Boas that summer, including the £26m Roberto Soldado.
Only Eriksen and Érik Lamela remain, with the Dane having developed into one of Mauricio Pochettino’s key players. Sixty assists and 49 goals from 209 Premier League appearances tell only half the story of a midfielder who is so often the architect of Spurs’ attacks from deep and is regularly among the players to cover the greatest distance in the league.
Eriksen signed a new four-year deal in 2016 worth an estimated £75,000 a week and his representatives resisted attempts to bring him in line with the club’s highest earners last summer when Tottenham told suitors he was not for sale. “There were three clubs, two English and one foreign, interested in paying a huge amount to Spurs,” his agent, Martin Schoots, said last month. “For the club it was then a no-go area and for Christian not a must-have. I have the impression we are in a new situation now.”
Eriksen’s typically polite and unassuming admission to a Danish newspaper that “I might want to try something new” a few days after Tottenham’s defeat in the Champions League final was designed to encourage Real Madrid to follow through with their reported interest, although no offer has been forthcoming despite a £270m spending spree. Zinedine Zidane’s apparent preference to sign Paul Pogba from Manchester United and Tottenham’s asking price – believed to have been set as high as £130m by the chairman, Daniel Levy – have left him in limbo.
Eriksen has fallen foul of the increasing trend of clubs holding out for big fees for players who have entered the final year of their contracts, even if Spurs will be under pressure not to allow one of their star performers to leave for free given the financial commitments at their stadium. Eden Hazard’s transfer to Real for an initial £88.5m was the most any club have paid for a player in such a situation – an astronomical fee for someone who would have been free to sign a pre-contract agreement with them next January.
Other than Madrid, only a handful of sides have the resources and stature to attract Eriksen given the platform he has been provided by Tottenham’s progression under Pochettino. Juventus, masters of the free-agent signing, have long been credited with an interest but may decide to hold off for now given their attempts to bring back Pogba and the presence of Aaron Ramsey. Barcelona – perhaps his spiritual home, given the Ajax upbringing – have been embroiled in a messy pursuit of Neymar and Antoine Griezmann yet could certainly do much worse than adding his guile in tandem with De Jong, while Bayern Munich appear to be preoccupied with their long overdue quest to replace Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry.
United’s failure to reach the Champions League means they are not an option and a move to another team in England is seemingly out of the question at the moment. Liverpool have heavily invested in his position and, even though Pep Guardiola must have considered Eriksen as a potential replacement for David Silva when the playmaker finally departs Manchester City at the end of next season, being 28 by then will probably work against him.
All of which leaves Tottenham. The purchase of Tanguy Ndombele for a club-record £55m is an indication that the board has recognised the need to invest in Pochettino’s project if the club are to make the final step after last season. Could that potentially thrilling partnership with the France international be enough to persuade Eriksen that the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side?
Levy will certainly be hoping so, although he will also be aware time is swiftly running out with deadline day less than four weeks away. It is a game of brinkmanship that is unlikely to end in a falling-out, such is Eriksen’s nature. But as De Jong lives the dream with Barça, his predecessor is facing a decision that could define his career.
The Guardian Sport