Christian Eriksen’s future has been on hold for months. His refusal to sign a new contract at Tottenham means that now, with six months of his current deal left, he’s free to negotiate with other clubs, with a view to leaving North London for free in June.
Eriksen spoke publicly last summer about wanting a new challenge and now, given that nothing has changed between him and Spurs, it’s worth dwelling on what the principles behind his next step should be. Most likely, the size of contract offered will be one of, if not the determining factor, but Eriksen is also the kind of playmaker who needs specific conditions to thrive.
Most notably, he isn’t built for the superclub environment. He has the abilities to be an asset to almost any side in Europe, either as a starter or one of several options, but the natural fluctuations in his form would likely make life inside that atmosphere very difficult for him.
It makes the issue of an optimal situation more difficult than it might be. On the one hand, he wants the kind of decadent contract that Tottenham have been unwilling to offer. On the other, that sort of reward is usually compensation for having to tolerate impatient, entitled fanbases and an almost sociopathic intolerance for poor performance.
Unfortunately, Eriksen’s playing profile makes him vulnerable. He’s endowed with a fabulous passing range and vision to die for, but also with blemishes. His set-piece delivery is routinely poor, his virtues as a pressing player are fairly tenuous – he’s generally fine until he actually has to make a tackle - and all of his recent Spurs seasons have featured long, barren downturns.
It’s possible that this contract situation has accentuated some of those negatives. It’s becoming clear for instance, certainly from the beginning of this season, that Eriksen is underinvested in Tottenham’s plight. Not completely indifferent to it, but relatively unconcerned with his standard of performance and even more so with the standards being reached by the team as a whole.
But there’s a technical caveat, too, perhaps even one relating to his conditioning. At his best, Eriksen was probably Mauricio Pochettino’s hardest working player – the distance covered per game statistics often suggested that to be the case. The concern is over whether, having worked for so long under such a physically demanding head-coach in Pochettino, Eriksen doesn’t now come with conditioning baggage.
For the sake of his career’s longevity, would it be better to bed him into a midfield, buttressing his role with players willing to do more than their share of the work? One theory about his cyclical form actually relates to this specifically, and how cumulative fatigue impacts creativity. The more physically tired he gets, the more mentally blunt he becomes. Maybe the key to extracting the most from Eriksen during the latter years of his prime is identifying the need for those compensations? It’s theory, but it’s plausible. He started early in senior football and at the age of 27 has played well over 500 professional games for clubs and country. He has miles on his clock and that needs to be respected and paid attention to.
So if there is something to that and his next club does have to creatively accommodate his more literal, footballing attributes, then that probably shortens the list of possible suitors. Eriksen may be a very good player, but he’s not an outstanding one and, consequently, probably doesn’t merit that kind of indulgence.
While it’s possible to see Real Madrid or Paris Saint-Germain using him as a luxury substitute, his future as a starter would probably have to be at the level slightly below. He’s a natural target for the flawed-but-rich community – Manchester United, Inter Milan etc – the kind of clubs attracted by Eriksen’s allure, but who aren’t really in a position to quibble too much about his faults.
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