BY ANDRE LEDEZMA
In 2013, Gareth Bale left Tottenham Hotspur to follow a new path. It took an investment of 94million Euros by Real Madrid – a very persuasive economic incentive – to make the Welshman the second most expensive transfer in the sport’s history. It helped furnish Spurs with an adequate margin with which to invest in their own future.
In football (as in life) in times of uncertainty, clarity can be achieved by focussing on the future. Investing in tomorrow has greater capacity for realisation of potential. Daniel Levy, chairman of Tottenham, decided to follow this philosophy by sinking that new money into replacements with more promise than product.
None drew more attention than 21-year-old Erik Lamela. Purchased from Roma, he came from Serie A with a reputation for consistency and creativity. His 63 appearances in Italy’s top flight made him one of Europe’s brightest hopes.
Lamela has, thus far, failed to live up to those lofty expectations; the ultra-aggressive defences of the Premier League limit a player who thrived on the space granted to him in the land of alla carbonara.
Yet, Lamela was not the only one brought to London in the aftermath of Bale’s departure. There were plenty who came to ‘strengthen’ the squad, but only one of those reinforcements stepped up. Someone a bit different. It just took a little time for them to notice him – Christian Eriksen.
21 years old – like Lamela – and physically average, Eriksen had already turned out over 100 times for Amsterdam’s talent factory, Ajax. He was instrumental in the Netherlands, regularly the most influential player in the Eredivisie and was chosen in the Team of the Tournament at the 2011 European Under-21 championships.
His early days in north London were acceptable as Andre Villas-Boas’ reshaping project took time to flourish. Eriksen played as the trequartista (often as a second forward) behind Roberto Soldado in a 4-4-1-1 formation, the flow of the game resting on his ability to move and direct play according to his bidding. The evidence of success was clear – 16 assists in the 2013/14 season. To put that in context, Eden Hazard made just 10 assists and Mehmet Ozil 14 during the same period.
With Villas-Boas (and Tim Sherwood) gone, Eriksen met another technician – new boss Mauricio Pochettino. The Dane was employed differently, based on the left hand side but with licence to wander in field and engage with the rest of the play. At first it seems his production level decreased; just five assists and the same amount of goals (12) as the previous year. However, he participated – in some fashion or other – in 86% of Tottenham’s goals. The conclusion – Eriksen had become the team’s most important offensive player.
His finest display came, undoubtedly, against Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea. The eventual champions were routed 5-3 at White Hart Lane – a near miraculous score given the visitors’ usual defensive stinginess. The reason for the unexpected demolition job? Eriksen. Harry Kane may have taken all the plaudits, but it was Eriksen whose fingerprints were on all five Spurs goals.
On the eve of the new season, two big questions present themselves: firstly, has Eriksen simply become too good for Tottenham? The numbers, his positional multivalence and overall creative spark suggest that he may well have. And secondly, how long will it take before he imitates Gareth Bale and chooses another way of life?
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