Christian Eriksen identifies the Irish players he is most wary of ahead of play-off showdown
On a weekly basis he dines at the top table.
Just nine days ago, at a stage of the season when a chunk of Ireland’s players were slogging it out in midweek games at places like Burton, Reading and Hull - motorway cafe stuff - Christian Eriksen’s exprience was more Michelin starred.
He played, and scored, for Tottenham in their Champions League win over European champions Real Madrid. His club are 41 places higher in the standings in England than the Sunderland side, the miserable Sunderland side, which provides two players for the Ireland squad for the World Cup play-offs.
Some of the great players carry an arrogance with them which demeans lesser opponents. Hard to imagine Zlatan Ibrahimovic stopping for a chat during the warm-ups in the Stade de France last year to ask Wes Hoolahan what the Norwich-Ipswich derby was really like.
It’s doubtful that Toni Kroos is that bothered about how Callum O’Dowda is faring at Bristol City.
But Eriksen, schooled at Ajax and then finessed by Spurs, has no such haughtiness.
“I know all about Ireland and the players, I know their names,” he tells The Herald when asked about the players he’s likely to duel with tomorrow.
“I have played against a lot of your guys in the Premier League already so I know how they play, this is my first time to play against Ireland so it’s going to be an exciting game, with the staff we have and the work they have done, we will be ready.”
He admits that taking on Ireland is a different task to beating Real Madrid. But still a task. “The countries which are hardest to play against are teams like yours, teams who don’t really have big names but the 13, 14, 15 players they use in most games are the same,” Eriksen says from the team’s hotel on the Danish coast.
“They know their jobs, they know what do to, they have a clear plan, if you break one player down, there will be another one waiting there to pick up so this will be a fight and we have to be on top of our game, we have to be bigger than they are, we need to show we are better on the ball.”
The Spurs man picks out James McClean as the opponent he’s least happy to face.
“Yeah, McClean has played some really good games for the national team,” he says.
“They play defensively and have been very strong and compact, but you have good players in tough leagues, they know all about the intensity of the tough games, how to play in big matches, their strength so far have been set pieces.”
Certain star players have an air about them while in international camps, the likes of Bale and Ibrahimovic a step above those around them. Many of those greats are also sniffy about international football.
Not Eriksen, who has played in every minute of every game in the qualifiers. Ireland’s players are keen to get to the World Cup but even though he is chasing Premier League and Champions League glory, Eriksen is also driven by national pride. That’s why he’s here, in the chill November air of the Danish coastline and not resting up in Dubai.
“I like playing football, especially for the national team, I don’t like being on the bench or sitting at home, it’s not that funny to be on the bench when your team are playing.
“Playing in every game in the group is tough when you have so many games with the club but I feel fit and capable of playing in every game so I am happy to be here,” he says.
“Everyone who plays for their country should feel something special, about wearing the shirt of your nation and representing your people, that is always something special - or at least it should be.
“And now, when we enter this phase of the World Cup qualification, you want to do it even more.
“I want to go to the World Cup but not just me, every player in this squad with me. We have two games that stand between us and the World Cup, so we go into the games with all we have, Ireland will play with their hearts too.
“We are a small country, like Ireland, we have an opportunity to get to the World Cup and we have to take it.”