Monday 27 January 2020

Eriksen rises into world's elite with drive to keep improving

Spurs midfielder is a 'born player' but his talent is allied to a fierce work ethic, writes Jason Burt

Tottenham Hotspur's Christian Eriksen. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire
Tottenham Hotspur's Christian Eriksen. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire

In 2012, Roma wanted to sign Christian Eriksen but, with two years left on his contract at Ajax, the deal was too expensive for a player who would not go straight into the first team and so the following year he joined Tottenham Hotspur for a reduced price.

There was nothing unusual in that, all the top teams had looked at Eriksen, but what was remarkable is precisely why Roma wanted him. They had identified him as the natural successor to their greatest-ever player: Francesco Totti. It showed just how highly he was rated and the promise he has. Totti was also one of Eriksen's heroes.

Now that potential is being fulfilled - spectacularly - and Eriksen is being talked about in the most accomplished of current company.

"Of course [Kevin] De Bruyne is amazing and I love [David] Silva, but Eriksen is the same, the same," says former Spurs boss Martin Jol, the man who gave the Dane his debut at Ajax, aged just 17.

Mauricio Pochettino also brackets them together. "For me, you can compare him with special players like De Bruyne or David Silva," the Spurs manager says. "This type of player who is capable to play football, and run, and fight. That is a massive, massive value to have a player like Christian on the team."

Jol goes even further. "If I was at another club, even at Barcelona, Real Madrid - you know [Andres] Iniesta? Eriksen will score more goals than Iniesta," the Dutchman says. "Five years ago I think Iniesta was the best player in the world and Eriksen is probably as good or better because to play for Barcelona is probably easier than to play at Tottenham where they develop all these youngsters.

"Maybe I am exaggerating a bit. But I think that, of course, he's already a £100 million player - like De Bruyne. And If I was the manager of one of the biggest clubs, like Bayern Munich, I would try and sign him. But, for me, I hope he stays at Spurs because I think there is more to come."

The figure of £100 million is probably no exaggeration. Scouts around Europe are comparing Eriksen's value to that of Philippe Coutinho, for whom Barcelona paid £142 million in January. With two years left on his contract, Spurs may have a fight to keep Eriksen, especially if he excels with Denmark at the World Cup.

Ahead of the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United at Wembley, there are recurrent themes when it comes to Eriksen. The 26-year-old has a prodigious appetite for work and self-improvement. Even as a teenager at Ajax he employed a personal trainer for two days a week with the specific aim of making him the fittest player at the club.

At Spurs, who he joined for £11.5 million, he has been a willing pupil under Pochettino and at the training ground staff speak of his desire to listen, learn and harness his extraordinary talent with a tough mentality to succeed.

Adding consistency and reliability to his ability, something he realised he had to do after that first season with Pochettino in 2014-'15, was the game-changer. Until then he was told he was too "intermittent".

The scouting reports on Eriksen were unanimous. One scout said: "Technically he was excellent. He saw passes between the lines and he had this remarkable right foot. He was also a very modern player in that he was technically gifted and dynamic. But there was also a lot of room for improvement.

"For a player like him to be in possession is quite easy. What needed to follow was how he operated out of possession and how he developed physically."

It is a theme that Pochettino picks up on.

"I think in the four seasons he's been playing for us, he has improved in every season," he says. "He was so young when I arrived here. Of course now he's a more mature player."

Eriksen could have been at Barcelona already, having had trials there as well as with AC Milan and Chelsea, before he was advised by Jol's friend and Chelsea's former sporting director Frank Arnesen to join Ajax, aged just 16.

"He is an unbelievable talent," Jol states when asked what his first recollections of Eriksen were. "There are a few talents you work with, but he is a born footballer. Like [Wesley] Sneijder, [Rafael] Van der Vaart, Silva. He was a born player. Everybody saw that so I thought it's probably better to give him his debut.

"The thing with him is he was dedicated. When he was 17 he was almost the same as he is now, an old-fashioned playmaker, although there is one big difference in the way he has developed himself into an overall midfield player. If Christian does not play, Spurs have a problem.

"He is probably one of the few real playmakers in Europe now. In the concept of Pochettino he plays on the left, sometimes on the right, but he drifts in and you will see that again in the semi-final and nobody has got an answer to that."

Pochettino refers to Eriksen as "Golazo", a Spanish term that translates as "screamer" as in a screaming goal.

Eriksen scores them in training, often from free-kicks, and Jol says that more goals is the only thing the player lacks. "It is almost unimaginable he can play better," he says. "Maybe he could score 15-20 goals, he's got 10 so far this season. He's one of the most influential players in Europe."

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