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WATCH: Who will lead Denmark’s World Cup run?
Behind Christian Eriksen’s slight frame, boyish looks and unassuming manner lies a monster of a playmaker, and if Denmark is to achieve anything worthwhile in the coming World Cup, it is the 26-year-old midfielder who will be behind it.
Eriksen is the commanding presence in the middle for the Danes and at Tottenham Hotspur, has been for several years, and he heads to Russia acclaimed as one of the globe’s finest string-pullers and in consideration as one of the nine or 10 best players in the game today. He hasn’t much to say about that, nor much else, really, but he’s been drawing comparisons to Danish legend Michael Laudrup for nearly a decade now, and his performances the past few years have amplified that to a deafening roar.
Johan Cruyff made the comparison seven years ago when he led a jury that selected Eriksen, then starring for Ajax in Amsterdam, for the Dutch Football Talent of the Year honor. “He’s a player I really like with all my heart …,” the Dutch master said. “The talent is there, the recognition also; now it is up to the player himself. You can compare him with Brian and Michael Laudrup. Only time will tell if Eriksen can reach the same level as them.”
It took a little time, but Eriksen grew massively under Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino’s guidance and has found, in Danish coach Aage Hareide’s five-man midfield, a system perfectly attuned to his talents. He has the opportunity in Russia to rocket into the world’s consciousness and receive the attention befitting his remarkable class.
Eriksen joined Ajax’s storied youth set-up when he was 16, and his game has all the markings of the greats produced at De Toekomst (“The Future”). He’s revered for his intelligence, manner of dictating the game’s pace, ability to see the field and pick out the best option, exceptional passing skills and, increasingly, knack for putting the ball in the net.
Intelligence, former Danish star Jan Molby told Tottenham’s website last year, is “his strength.”
“So much of his work goes unnoticed, because it’s about creating space,” Molby said. “I often say that Christian is behind [Tottenham and England standouts] Dele Alli’s and Harry Kane’s success is the space he creates for them in his movement and his passing. That’s as big a statement you can make about any player.”
Molby had far more to say, about how Eriksen “has that ability to play in his own time,” how he “sees things that no one else sees on the pitch,” and how advanced his ability to make the right decision is.
“It’s all coming together, and there is a burning desire to be the best, and he goes about it in his own way,” Molby said earlier this year. “That’s what sets him apart. He’s a unique footballer.”
Hareide’s appointment has been a huge boon for Eriksen, who has greater freedom to go where he pleases in a 4-5-1 alignment that encourages direct play rather than slow buildup out of the back. Eriksen is able to create higher up the field, leading to more scoring chances — for teammates and himself.
Erikson scored six goals in 57 games under former Denmark boss Morten Olsen. He’s got 15 in 20 games since Hareide arrived, including 11 during the World Cup qualifying campaign, a total that was surpassed in Europe only by Poland’s Robert Lewandowski and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo. His hat trick to devastate Ireland in the second leg of the UEFA qualifying playoffs carried the Danes to Russia.
That helped him to his fourth Danish Footballer of the Year award, matching Brian Laudrup’s total. He’s been the primary force as Tottenham has finished in the top four of the English Premier League the past four seasons, and strong play in the World Cup could mean a move to a bigger club, if he desires that. A few clubs already are sniffing around.Both Laudrup brothers have noted that he’d fit in well at Barcelona, and Don Balon reported the club has identified him as Andres Iniesta’s successor. Paris Saint-Germain is reportedly ready to make an offer for him beyond $130 million.