Ken Early: Prospect of facing Ireland again will do little to inspire Eriksen
Midfielder will struggle to be motivated after Champions League heartache with Spurs
Tottenham Hotspur’s Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen reacts to their defeat as Liverpool players celebrate their victory in the Champions League final last weekend. Photograph: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images
On Saturday, Christian Eriksen lost the biggest match of his life. Tonight he has to go again, leading Denmark’s attack in their fifth game against Ireland in the last 20 months. Eriksen would scarcely be human if he did not feel a crushing sense of anticlimax.
His Danish colleagues insist he will be well up for it. “The best way to recover is to have a good game,” the Denmark manager Åge Hareide said. “Christian loves to play football, he loves to play for Denmark and that’s the important thing. We’ve had so much pleasure with Christian playing in our side.”
Kasper Schmeichel agreed with his coach: “What you want after a game like that is to come out and play again. I don’t think there’s any doubt from anyone that Christian will be fully motivated. The reward for games like this is being able to play a European Championships.”
The thing that makes Eriksen special is that there are so few other elite creative players who run 12 or 13 kilometres a game
The Danes were saying the things they had to say. But how exciting can the distant prospect of another European Championships seem to Eriksen today, when the memory of losing a different European championship final is still so raw?
He has a lot on his mind right now. Two days ago he announced via the Danish paper Ekstra Bladet that he thought the time had come to leave Spurs. A question he couldn’t yet answer was: where do you think you’re headed next?
He agreed that a move to Real Madrid and Barcelona would be the sort of “step-up” that he wants to make, but what chance does he have of getting such a move when Daniel Levy is reported to have set the price at £130 million?
Eden Hazard, who also had one year left on his contract, is about to join Real Madrid for £42 million less than that. Nobody is going to pay more for Eriksen than for Hazard. Either Levy caves, or Eriksen could be forced to stay at Spurs and see out the last year of his contract.
Eriksen will also have been aware of the mixed reaction to his announcement from Tottenham fans. Many are grieving and hoping he stays, others claim he is overrated and they are happy to see him go. They sloganise their indifference with “Beat the first man!” – a meme that has attached itself to him because his corners keep getting headed away at the near post.
His club season has not been quite as good as the two previous ones, when he established himself as one of the best attacking midfielders in the league. Partly this has to do with the World Cup hangover that also seems to have affected Harry Kane and Dele Alli. Partly it’s because injuries to other Spurs midfielders have often forced him to play in deeper positions, where the goals and assists are harder to come by.
Still, only Hazard and Ryan Fraser finished the season with more assists in the Premier League. The thing that makes Eriksen special is that there are so few other elite creative players who run 12 or 13 kilometres a game. He moves so much that he is almost impossible to mark, and he has the stamina to sustain a high level of technique into the closing stages of matches.
But that exceptional work rate has to be underpinned by passion. Eriksen is not a Romario-type, the sort of player who wins matches with a couple of explosive bursts. At his best he is a constant presence in the game. He has to keep moving and looking for the ball. And having suffered such a bitter disappointment just six nights ago, how hungry for action is he feeling right now?
And against Ireland, of all teams.
It was funny to listen to the Danish manager and senior players reciting the familiar list of supposed Irish qualities. Hareide: “We know it will be difficult, they are well-organised, always hard to play against . . .” Simon Kjaer: “Ireland are a difficult team to play against, very well-organised and compact . . .” Schmeichel: “Football is a game where there is no right and wrong way to play. We have our style of play, and Ireland have theirs . . .”
We know what they really think about us because they have told us on so many occasions. They think Ireland are one of the dullest and most uninspiring football teams in Europe, and nobody who’s seen Ireland’s approach in the four previous matches of this series could blame them.
Earlier a Danish journalist had asked Mick McCarthy if he felt Denmark were a kind of “evil spirit” for his side, and while McCarthy insisted that no, he didn’t see them as an evil spirit, just a very good football team, you get the sense the Danes certainly feel something like that about Ireland.
It’s not that Ireland are a powerful type of evil spirit, the sort that terrifies you and destroys your life. Rather they are a low-level exasperation and energy drain.
Ireland are the cup of milky coffee you spill over yourself at the start of a long train journey. They are the puddle you step in on your way to work, they are the feeling of having to squelch around for the rest of the day in wet shoes.
When Ireland come to town every Danish heart sinks a little, and perhaps the already-sunken heart of their key attacker will sink just a little bit more. The sheer bathos of having to play us again could be our ally.