Saturday 19 January 2019

‘Tottenham may have a problem keeping him’ - Former Spurs midfielder suspects Christian Eriksen is ready to join the game’s greats

Christian Eriksen (Nigel French/PA)
Christian Eriksen (Nigel French/PA)
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

As Christian Eriksen steps out at the Nou Camp vying to slay the might of Barcelona on Tuesday night, his golden audition to join the game’s modern greats will begin in earnest.

A decade after the shy and reserved Danish midfielder was rejected by Barcelona as much for his undeveloped personality as his lack of talent, Tottenham talisman Eriksen will return to the stadium he openly admits is his dream stage to prove his time has finally arrived to join the game’s A-list.

A teenage Eriksen was overlooked by Barcelona scouts who feared he lacked the strength of character and physical attributes to shine at the highest level, but that myth has been shattered in resounding fashion.

After Luka Modric’s coronation as world Player of the Year last Monday cemented the suspicion that the era dominated so magnificently by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi is edging towards a conclusion, invites at the game’s top table up for grabs and Eriksen appears to be at the front of that queue.

As Tottenham strive to inflict a first defeat on Barcelona at their home stadium for the first time since April 2013 to complete their remarkable recovery from what appeared to be a position of no return and qualify for the Champions League knock-out stages on Tuesday night, Eriksen must sense his moment has come.

For one of a handful of players who would command a place in every Premier League side, the chance to conduct the Spurs choir in front of the Catalan congregation should be the ultimate motivation for a midfield conductor who openly admits he would relish the chance to become a Barcelona star.

“Barcelona is a fantastic football club and I don’t think there are many players who would be able to say no to them,” he said in an interview last year.

“However, until there is actually some concrete interest, I don’t have an opinion about that.”

That interest was real last summer as both Real Madrid and Barcelona pondered bids for Eriksen, yet the notorious task of trying to negotiate a fee with Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy would have snored those ambitions would have been halted at first base.

The player Levy signed from Ajax in the summer of 2013 for just £11m with some of the profits from the of Gareth Bale’s sale to Real Madrid is worth ten times that amount now, with the £142m fee Barcelona paid to sign Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool a valuation that may be referenced if a sale was pondered.

It remains to be seen how long Spurs can hold on to a player who is arguably more valuable that their star man Harry Kane remain to be seen, but in the opinion of former Tottenham midfielder Jermaine Jeans, Eriksen is the player who gives Spurs their X factor.

“We have seen in the last year that Eriksen has gone to a different level and that has to be a concern for Tottenham in the long term,” BT Sport pundit Jeans told us.

“I think he in one of the few players who would get into every Premier League side and you could argue the same in the Champions League as well and it is a credit to both the player and his manager Mauricio Pochettino that he is now realising all the potential he had when he arrived at Spurs five years ago.

“In some ways he reminds me of Luka Modric. I played with Luka when I was at Tottenham and he was the player who provided the link for everything in the team.

“It’s great to see Luka getting the credit he deserves for what he brings to the game now, but we all knew what a class act he was when he was at Tottenham and I would put Eriksen very close to him now.

“Christian has added goals to his repertoire now and is what separates the very good attacking midfielders from the best and you look at the deliver he has in the box and his level of consistency and he deserves to be up there as one of the best players in the world.”

Already assured of a place in the knock-out stages, a potentially weakened Barcelona side may offer Tottenham hope of what would be one of the best result of the Mauricio Pochettino era as they target Champions League salvation, yet Jeans suggests an Eriksen masterclass on Tuesday could ultimately backfire on his current employers.

“The trouble Tottenham might have is convincing Eriksen that he can achieve all his ambitions with them as at some point he will want to win trophies,” adds Jeans.

“If the rumours are true and Barcelona and Real Madrid are looking at him, it may not come down to wages and more about where he feels he can win the trophies that matter. That’s when Tottenham may have a problem keeping him.

“You might say Harry Kane is the player all the top sides would want, but I get the feeling Harry has an attachment to Spurs that he would be reluctant to break, but Eriksen may not have that issue, so he may be tempted by a move to one of the big Spanish clubs.”

As Ireland found to their cost in last year’s World Cup play-off in Dublin, Eriksen at his magnificent best is an unstoppable force and with his motivation certain to be at its most pronounced in Barcelona next week, Tottenham can expect a masterclass from their most valuable player.

Lionel Messi may have dominated the first game between Spurs and Barca at Wembley in October, but that was a night when Eriksen was absent due to injury and now the master and his potential successor will finally do battle.

If Eriksen comes out on top, the hype around his belated move to the club that let him slip through their net all those years ago will be ramped up all once again.

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