Admired by Johan Cruyff, Ajax's young Danish superstar is just the player to take Arsenal back into the running for the title next season.
Ajax director of football Marc Overmars says the club’s highly-rated Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen, 20, does not want to sign a new contract – here’s why Manchester United should snap him up.
For a Dane, to be hailed as the ‘new Michael Laudrup’ is the equivalent to an Argentine branded the ‘new Maradona’. Only the burden is arguably heavier for Christian Eriksen who, unlike Lionel Messi, doesn’t have a world-class supporting cast to fall back on. And yet he is De Rød-Hvide’s anointed saviour.
Patience was wearing thin with the Ajax playmaker during June’s U21 European Championship in Denmark. As host nations, the expectation level inevitably rose to excessive proportions that success was in the offering. They had been beaten 4-0 at home by Stuart Pearce’s England in a March friendly.
The Red and Whites finished bottom of their four-team group with a meagre three points. If Eriksen wasn’t peppering the opponent’s goal with an effort every five minutes, the crowd inflicted their bile upon him specifically. In what was a miserable tournament, his one goal in three games came courtesy of a rebound after his penalty was saved.
And yet he had actually played well. Enterprising and perceptive, his skill factor is matched by few of his international colleagues; such is the benefit of being schooled in Amsterdam during your youth. A bargain €1m arrival in the Dutch capital at the age of 16, Eriksen is a Total Footballer in everything but nationality.
A fleet-footed trequartista, like Borussia Dortmund’s Mario Götze and Chelsea’s Juan Mata, he is another emerging technical forward-thinker who is adept at playing across the front three. Yet he is undeniably superior in the central number 10 role, offering thrust and penetration, gliding past opponents as if they were training cones.
He scored eight goals in Ajax’s title win last season having made a cameo appearance at the 2010 World Cup as the tournament’s youngest player, before sampling the summer’s U21 Euros. Beforehand he was deservedly named Dutch Football Talent of the Year for 2011 – a jury commanded by the legendary Johan Cruyff. Unsurprisingly, Cruyff enthusiastically extols Eriksen.
‘He’s a player I really like with all my heart,’ said the Dutchman. ‘This prize is just the beginning, a stimulus to get the maximum out of his career. The talent is there, the recognition also; now it is up to the player himself. He is a typical product of the Danish school. You can compare him with Brian and Michael Laudrup. Only time will tell if Eriksen can reach the same level as them.’
To reach that level however Eriksen can’t continue playing at the Amsterdam ArenA. Now an Eredivisie and KNVB Cup winner with one of European football’s greatest clubs, progression, after sampling Champions League football this season, to new shores is the next logical step. Much like South Americans, there was a hint upon his arrival that Ajax was merely a stepping stone. ‘My first step should not be too big. I knew that playing in the Netherlands would be very good for my development,’ he said cryptically.
England’s history with successful Scandinavians marks the Premier League as an inevitable point of arrival. He was man of the match in the February friendly against the Three Lions, outshining impressive debutant Jack Wilshere with a display of such verve that both Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard were compelled to laud him. He timed his audition perfectly for the ITV1 crowd.
Like his youthful attacking peers, Eriksen is a short attacker. Standing at 5ft 9in, he compensates for his unimposing stature via an advanced footballing brain and switching through the gears with such an upsurge that the game seems to have been fast-forwarded. If the Premier League continues to be populated with players of his ilk, physicality will no longer be cited as an outstanding difference from other European leagues.
Liverpool were heavily linked with Eriksen after his performance against England, but Kenny Dalglish has prioritised home-grown options, whilst another striker continues to be an increasing prerequisite. Manchester United however are desperately in need of continental flair and someone to alleviate the burden on Wayne Rooney and novice salvation Tom Cleverley. Although younger than the latter, Eriksen has, at the precocious age of 19, acquired a vast amount of experience and irrespective of an elder option being preferable, he is easily good enough to start for the Red Devils.
Also ostensibly interested are Manchester City. Despite their form, initiating a back-up plan to counter the inevitable Spanish courting of David Silva or Mario Balotelli’s nomadic behaviour is prudent. Their plethora of attackers has ostracised one exciting talent in Adam Johnson however, which should represent a reminder for Eriksen should he be enticed by the Citizens’ riches. And already Sergio Agüero occupies his niche, to a different yet devastating effect. United unquestionably need him more but are already losing headway over Yann M’Vila and Javier Martínez to their city rivals. To curb the enthusiasm over City, a statement of world-class intent is essential.
Irrespective of qualms over his destination, Eriksen is a player which Premier League aficionados would soon be waxing lyrically about. Another European who has played better for his country than some early-30s English internationals have, even in mind-numbing matches his presence is as sweet as Danish pastry. Hopefully English football can sample him in 2012.