New Danish system making the most of Eriksen's talent
Jan Molby played in one of the most important games in Irish football history. The Liverpool legend was a member of the Denmark side which won Eoin Hand's final game in charge of the Republic of Ireland in November 1985.
Denmark had already qualified for the World Cup finals in Mexico, while Ireland were playing for pride, third place and another summer watching finals from the sofa. There were just 12,000 people in Lansdowne Road to see Denmark win 4-1. Hand departed in the immediate aftermath and by Christmas, a man called Jack Charlton was to be his replacement.
Liverpool legend Molby can remember the game like it was yesterday. "It was a very strong Ireland team with a lot of really good players, but we were exceptional as well," he says. "I think the worst thing was that they took the lead early on - Frank Stapleton scored - and we thought we might as well show what we can do. We were superb on the night but they played an open game and gave us opportunities.
"That was how they played. The Irish lads at Liverpool were saying before the game that they were not looking forward to it because they knew they were not right as a team and they knew the qualities we possessed.
"Jack came in and changed it all. They lacked structure, as we did in the early '80s, until the German coach (Sepp Piontek) came in and made us an international team. We'd had great Danish players in the past but we were never a team. Ireland was the same.
"If you ask your players to play in a certain way and it is successful and enjoyable, they will move heaven and earth for their manager. We had managers who knew how they wanted to play international football. Jack orchestrated that with Ireland. He put them on the map."
That win in Dublin was Molby's second and last game against Ireland. It would be another seven years before the two countries met, drawing twice as Charlton guided Ireland to their second World Cup eliminating the shock Euro 92 champions in the process. The USA 94 finals were the last of his trailblazing reign.
Molby played just 33 games in eight years for Denmark after making his debut aged 18 in 1982. Even as he thrived at Anfield, Piontek most often opted for Frank Arnesen and Jens-Jorn Bertelsen in central midfield. The manager's replacement, Richard Moller Nielsen, opted to axe Molby completely after his first two games in 1990. So one of English football's finest passers missed out on the Danes' incredible Euros journey; from the non-qualifiers, who gained late entry to the finals in Sweden when Yugoslavia were thrown out, to the 'Dynamite' team that stunned the world and became champions.
Charlton and his two Danish counterparts had world-class players available. The stars who changed the lives of so many among those red and green armies in that era roll off the tongue, but are now confined to stats, memories and hazy clips on YouTube. Only one player in next month's play-off could compete with the likes of Brian and Michael Laudrup, Roy Keane, Peter Schmeichel or Paul McGrath, and that is Christian Eriksen, who has thrived, to the surprise of many including Molby, under the direction of Norwegian coach Age Hareide.
"We needed something new after Morten Olsen was in charge for 15 years," says Molby. "The system was based on individual quality and on possession football, like Barcelona, and he persisted with it. So we were ready for a foreign manager and new ideas but we were not exactly overjoyed that it was a Norwegian coach who could get the best out of the players. They are known for very basic football, shall we say.
"But what he has managed to do is get the best out of Christian at international level. We play a bit quicker, we are on the move and more direct, get the ball forward quicker and create more chances. Christian is a very bright footballer, so the quicker it is, the better it suits him.
"He does have a slightly different role at Spurs but sometimes it is difficult to say what that role is because they are so fluid, whereas we are more rigid. He plays further forward for Denmark and thrives on the responsibility.
"Under the previous manager you had to fit into the way he wanted to play, but when you have very gifted footballers, like Christian, sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and build a team around him. The difference is this coach has not only told him that - which is the easiest thing in the world - but he has actually done it and made him the main man. Many coaches say it, but don't go through with it."
Molby, who still lives in the north-west of England and works for Danish TV covering the Premier League, has seen Eriksen's development at Tottenham close-up. The midfielder has Molby's seal of approval. He would love to play alongside him.
"Who wouldn't?" he says. "I like a player who can see things, so you know you have that extra half-second to play the pass and he will see it. He has quick feet, a sharp brain and is prepared to take a risk.
"I still think there is some way to go before he is at his very best. He is still developing; he is very quiet, almost shy, and it takes a long time before he is comfortable in a team and you see the best of him.
"People often ask me if he could play in a team like Real Madrid or Barcelona and my answer is that he could play in any team, anywhere. He fits into any team well, and he fits in before he shows his quality and potential.
"You only have to look at our goals. He has almost single-handedly. . . not got us there yet, but we are very close. And if he goes to the World Cup finals, as long as we put things around him, he could shine even more and show what a good player he is on the world stage."
Denmark have to beat Ireland to be among the finalists in Russia and Molby, delighted like every Dane to have avoided Sweden in last week's play-off draw, believes there is little to choose between the two sides.
Molby (54) is planning to be in Dublin for the second leg. He is certain the tie will be decided then and not in the first leg, which is now less than a fortnight away.
"We are in relatively good form and feel we are slight favourites but we are not 100 per cent convincing yet," he adds. "The last group game against Romania was very average and we are capable of that kind of performance. But if we hit it off on the night and Ireland are too open, we can win it.
"Danish fans watch a lot of English league football and there has always been a lot of respect for Ireland since the mid-80s when they burst on to the scene. People are slightly worried about the second leg, the atmosphere in Dublin and what Ireland can be capable of physically and any possible aerial bombardment.
"We beat Poland 4-0 in September but they were extremely poor that night. If Ireland come and play as naively as the Poles and want to open up, I can see there being a problem, but they won't. This is a Martin O'Neill team. He knows exactly what is required.
"Ireland will put up the green wall and we have to break it down. We are very solid, like Ireland, and I am not so sure we will be prepared to take risks in the first leg but we may be quite happy to go to Ireland and win the tie there. I don't think it will be decided in the first leg."
World Cup Qualification 1985
Lansdowne Road November 13, 1985
Sunday Indo Sport