It feels a bit like being put on the footballing naughty step. When a player is sent out to warm up or, worse still, comes on with just a few minutes to go in a match where the outcome is already decided it often has the bitter whiff of punishment.
It might be alright for a youngster desperate for any game time he can get or, perhaps, an old-stager trying to reach some appearance record but for a seasoned professional, it has to be a little bit humbling. Poor Christian Eriksen has been sent to tidy his room quite a lot of late.
There’s something in the Dane’s demeanour that makes it all the more disconcerting. He has the downcast look of a man resigned to his fate under Antonio Conte and simply marking time until he is set free. If you found him making chalk marks on a wall at the Suning Sports Centre to count down his remaining days there would hardly be surprised.
The most glaring example of his recent punishment exercises was a blink-and-you-missed-it appearance against Bologna with the Nerazzurri already 3-1 up and cruising. However, in truth, this was just the latest in a line of cameo roles which have become the leitmotif of his time in Milan. His highlights reel so far would most likely include copious footage of the fourth official holding up his number on the illuminated substitute’s board.
Even on night in a key Champions League clash and with a midfield reputedly in pieces, Eriksen did not get the start. He was widely touted in the sports papers as a potential saviour for the Nerazzurri - with his nearly 200 international appearances between clubs and country - but to no avail. Against Real Madrid, he got on in the 85th minute with a reluctance that suggested a member of the crowd, if there had been one, might have got on before him.
The former Tottenham started at Cagliari, for the first time in over a month, but was replaced after less than one hour.
His coach, of course, has denied any talk of turbulence between himself and the player - describing their relationship as “excellent” in a terse response to questioning. He insisted that all his team selections were done for the good of the team and urged the player to keep working hard. His board then backed him fully. None of this would surprise any veteran Conte watchers.
It is unlikely he would genuinely want to humiliate one of his own players, what possible motive could he have? However, he is certainly not averse to a managerial show of strength and his treatment of the player seems to smack a little bit of that.
After the tug-of-not-much-love with Inter in the summer he now occupies a position of some power and he is not afraid to use it. He is the kind of coach who will stand or fall by results - his interest in being likeable, popular or sympathetic comes a very distant second to his desire to win. Eriksen looks like nothing more than collateral damage.
Anyone who remembers Conte as a player might wonder how he would have responded to such treatment himself. The answer, probably, is roll up his sleeves and work, work and work some more. But he was a very different type of footballer and - it would appear from the outside anyway - character to the former Spurs man. In terms of carrot and stick, you get the feeling that the player might respond much more favourably to a portion of orange vegetables right now than another metaphorical beating. His boss, however, is no vegan Masterchef.
Whatever side you take - and you are free to sit in the middle somewhere - it feels like a bit of a shame for both club and footballer alike. These things happen, of course, and it isn’t the first time a big transfer has not worked out and it surely will not be the last. Inter could do with someone more useful to their cause, at least under their current coach, and Eriksen needs a team where his matchday involvement lasts longer than your average advertising break.
It looks like a tale that can only end one way - with a transfer in January. Then, most likely, we will have to wait for the autobiographies to come out in a few years’ time to reveal what exactly went on behind the scenes.