Just a little less than a year after his cut-price move to Inter from Tottenham, Christian Eriksen looks like a conundrum. It has become a strange situation and it continues to become weirder with every passing week, as words keep trickling out from every side of the whole scenario. The last ones were spoke by Denmark legend Michal Laudrup who has hinted Eriksen could already be on his way. The 28-year-old has made only 11 starts in Serie A since he joined Antonio Conte’s side in January 2020.
It is true that winter signings don’t always start brightly considering they have less time to get to grips with new surroundings than the summer signings. In addition to that, Eriksen had to adapt to playing in a completely new league which is much more structured, he had to learn a new language and play in a new system under Conte. In cases like these, it is normal for players to take some weeks to find their feet but Eriksen hasn’t quite done that and has shown only flashes of his brilliance.
For those that watched Eriksen on a weekly basis at Tottenham under Mauricio Pochettino, it is easy to find them gloating about the Dane’s pressing abilities in central areas. He wasn’t seen as someone who stands at his feet for the whole 90 minutes and let games pass by him. He was proactive off the ball and that is the glowing praise that his former Ajax coaches have also given. After all, this is a player who became a linchpin of a Spurs side that had this identity of being a team that thrives on pressing high up the pitch and relied on quick transitions in possession.
He would set up goals on a regular basis for the likes of Harry Kane and Dele Alli. In the 2016-17 season he even played as a “number 10” in a 3-4-1-2 system under Pochettino and coincidentally, his role dismantled Conte’s Chelsea in the same campaign. Eriksen set up Alli twice in Spurs’ 2-0 win against the Blues in April 2017. Chelsea did win the title with Conte’s 3-4-3, but that game was one of the most memorable moments of Eriksen’s time at Spurs.
Things changed a lot in his last season in north London. He looked like a shadow of his past: slow, inactive off the ball and he always gave the impression of someone who was winding the shutters down of his Spurs career. In fact, Eriksen had already made it clear that he wanted to leave the club after the Champions League final lost against Liverpool at the end of the 2018-19 campaign. Spurs took hold of him for half campaign but they had to sell him for €20m in January to avoid losing him as a free agent six months later. Even in Milan, however, the way he’s carrying himself hasn’t quite changed. Sometimes, he looks disinterested and probably that’s one of the reasons why Conte is not really appreciating him.
His system doesn’t demand as much intense pressing as Pochettino’s did. It just involves the attacking midfielder to be quick in possession, exchange one-twos quickly and drive the team forward like Stefano Sensi did early last season or like Nicolo Barella has done in the current campaign. That movement and urgency hasn’t quite been seen from Eriksen, who seems less of a workhorse than Barella and more of a stand and deliver playmaker than he’s ever been. Perhaps, he isn’t as resilient at tracking back as much as Conte wants.
In some ways, the way he’s changed as a player is very unexpected considering his past. Many felt that he was going to be the perfect advanced midfielder for Conte’s system as Stefano Sensi was constantly tortured by injuries. Instead, Conte seems to be trusting Barella for that role more often than not. The lockdown came at the wrong time for the Dane too, as he didn’t have a house to live in when he arrived at the club and had to spend time at the Inter’s training ground for quite a few weeks.
All that didn’t help him physically and maybe, mentally too. He had to deal with these physical restraints, settle in a new country, learn a new language, get used to a new system with different demands. On top of that, Conte seems to have reached a point in his Inter tenure where he only wants his tried and trusted guards over players that he may not fit his system in a complete way.
The signings of experienced players like Arturo Vidal, Matteo Darmian and Aleksandar Kolarov were a clear indication of that and the fuss that he kicked up in the summer about a potential exit just forced all of it. Because of the assurances that Conte wants from his players, he’s not too bothered about trusting Eriksen, even considering all the barriers that he has faced since arriving.
Conte’s just being ruthless in his thirst to win the league, even though the beginning hasn’t been as good as many would expect at the start of the campaign. This is a make or break season for the Italian coach and he wants players that he is sure will work for his system. In this mad rush for the Scudetto, Eriksen is being pushed onto the peripheries. It might be unfair on him, but that is how football and life can work sometimes. His glory days at Spurs are already far away and probably it is already time for him to look elsewhere and find a new team.