On June 12, 2021, when Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest during Denmark’s Euro 2020 game vs Finland – the then 29-year-old fell to the turf in the first half, it left not just his teammates, opposition players, or fans in the stands but the entire footballing world at the time speechless and in a state of horror for not just Eriksen’s career but life.
Fast forward a year and 3 weeks later, and the former Spurs and Inter Milan player is back in the Premier League and it feels like he’s never left. After taking some time out of football, he returned to the English shores in a 6-month free transfer (after being released from Inter because of the rules in Serie A against defibrillators to prevent further heart incidents) to newly promoted side Brentford.
The transfer was seen at the time as the perfect pick-me-up for the player and the club; Brentford was on a poor run of form and was looking like a team out of ideas after an incredible start to their top-flight football debut and Eriksen was looking for a club that was at the level to satisfy his need and goal of getting back to fitness and most importantly back into the international scene before the Qatar 2022 World Cup, also the lure of playing football back in London was a big personal gain. Alongside, his past relationship with the manager Thomas Frank, a deal that just felt right.
To keep it short, Eriksen was nothing short of phenomenal at Brentford – in 11 appearances he got 1 goal and 4 assists but his contribution to the West London club was so much more than the numbers can convey.
Pre-Eriksen, Brentford were a threatening counter-attacking side who drew oppositions into possession traps and broke using explosive wing-play, Championship goal-scoring sensation Ivan Toney was dropping into deeper areas in a “Harry Kane role” – facilitating for Bryan Mbeumo and having a hard-working midfield patrolling the pitch, the main issue came when Brentford was faced against teams who employed a deeper block and limited the transitions Brentford were able to do.
In came the magical Dane who quickly aided them with concerns and questions being asked about Thomas Frank’s side. Only two players created more chances (30) than Eriksen since he came back to the league – Martin Odegaard (38) and Kevin de Bruyne (42) – emphasizing the creative excellence of Christian Eriksen.
It seems like a matter of time until we get official confirmation of the attacking midfielder in a United shirt after credible reports confirming the player has agreed to a 3-year deal with the club, and despite the concrete interest from Brentford and the personal relationship with the manager, this move shouldn’t be a surprise, given the Dane has previously worked with Erik ten Hag.
Eriksen also trained with Ajax in a bid to build up his fitness as he sought a new club; the Dane is a former Ajax player and it was a great opportunity for ten Hag to see what skillset Eriksen has. It’s clear he made an impression on the Dutch manager who has sanctioned his signing on a free transfer.
Christian Eriksen is coming into a Manchester United team that has a mixture of attacking profiles; from Bruno Fernandes to Jadon Sancho. There will be an expectation that the Danish superstar is battling with the likes of Donny van de Beek and Bruno Fernandes for a more advanced role in the midfield.
There other roles that have been mentioned that the Dane superstar could take up. With the Frenkie de Jong deal getting closer and closer by the day, despite the odd dramatic U-turn comment from president Joan Laporta, there is a position next to him that many supporters feel needs filling.
Eriksen’s arrival could spark a more progressive and creative midfield pivot from the days of Scott McTominay and Fred or McFred (as United fans call the pair). An Eriksen-de Jong pivot will leave a lot to be derided.
Still, as mentioned before, the progressive nature of the latter and the creative and passing range of the former will provide so much in possession but would lack the defensive awareness and nuance that is needed when coming up against equally technical midfield, both players have universally struggle in engaging in defensive duels.
Another position that has been mentioned is as a wide midfielder. Eriksen at Spurs was regarded as one of the league’s elite creators but he was doing it in a wider area from the right, as part of a formidable front four with Kane (ST), Son (LM), Alli (AM) – the four teamed up in an interchangeable but structured attacking quadrant under Mauricio Pochettino.
United’s wide options are similar in more ways than one – they all command a lot of speed, pace, and movement off the ball but apart from Jadon Sancho – they all lack a creative spark in the final third and Eriksen in a wider position would change that. The Dane ranks in the top 1 percentile for assists, crosses, key passes, and SCA (shot-creating actions) – all desirable attributes in a creative wide option.
At 30 years of age, it is well known what Christian Eriksen brings to a team – the elite level creativity, great set-piece taker, collection of long-range strikes, and professionalism and drive that should be admired by all peers, but the intriguing side of this deal is what is the Dane brings to the Old Trafford club that they don’t already have?
Well, a major issue of Manchester United’s midfield last season was ball retention, with the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Scott McTominay, and Fred all criticized for their poor security of the ball in certain thirds of the pitch.
There is no doubt that with ten Hag’s arrival that this will improve with significant coaching and cohesive style but Christian Eriksen is naturally a high ball retention player – rarely losing it in dangerous areas and consistently showing high levels of technical security.
This will be a massive benefit to the team, as with a possession style being implemented, having a player like Eriksen who is cable of holding onto the ball with little trouble is a great asset to have, and this should feed off to players like van de Beek and Fernandes – who will surely learn off the Dane.
Another trait that Eriksen will bring to this Manchester United squad that is much needed is the mentality. Eriksen may not have the trophy cabinet of Raphaël Varane or Cristiano Ronaldo – having won three Eredivisie titles and a Serie A – but to delve back into the day that Eriksen collapsed, those are the experiences that make you a stronger footballer and most importantly a person.
Having this mental strength will be a key asset from a football standpoint for this squad – countless times United have conceded early, and have had a mental drop that they cant get back up. The mental fragility and lack of leaders at the Old Trafford club will be a worry to Erik ten Hag and the imminent arrival of Eriksen will only improve that.
This may not be a transfer that is widely regarded as exciting when completed, but United fans, should be excited about the prospect of this deal – signing an elite chance-creator in the Premier League on a free transfer is very adequate business, on and off the pitch.
At only 30 years of age, the 3-year deal represents trust from both parties, that Eriksen will continue to keep up his fine form into the latter stages of his career and Manchester United will provide Eriksen with a good, stable platform to show that.
With Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, and Nemanja Matić leaving the club this summer, Christian Eriksen is the start of a much-needed midfield revolution and is an excellent building block to start from.
By: Raphael Adelugba / @xGConvertor0
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / NurPhoto