On Thursday, Mauricio Pochettino remarked how an unsigned contract could affect a player’s form. By Saturday teatime, the Tottenham manager’s point had been proven correct on an ASAP basis. Christian Eriksen had spent the previous two hours enjoying himself at Stoke City’s expense.
“Perhaps subconsciously, the speculation can affect you when you are in the process of negotiating your future,” was Pochettino’s midweek assessment of Eriksen’s new four-year deal. “It is not about money. It’s about your future. Sometimes it is difficult but we trust Christian, he is happy to stay and there is no doubt he will improve his performance in the future.”
“Sometimes it is difficult” are the four words which might epitomise Eriksen’s relationship with Tottenham and their supporters. There is no doubting the prodigious talent that had long seen the Dane linked with a move to an elite European club, but too often the proof of that ability has been inconsistently demonstrated. There’s nothing quite as frustrating as unmatched potential.
This season, those doubts over Eriksen have increased thanks only to his own sluggish form. Five chances created, two shots on target and a suspicion that the attacking midfielder was not quite pulling his weight to meet Pochettino’s all-running, all-tackling demands. He was substituted against Crystal Palace and could not have complained had he been left on the bench against Liverpool. There were also rumours of ludicrous financial demands.
It’s important to offer a defence of Eriksen in the midst of such criticism. Not every flair player could adjust to Pochettino’s pressing game, especially when Eriksen is regularly shifted out to the left and right wings as well as his No. 10 role. The Dane has been asked to up his workload and drastically improve his defensive qualities. Joining under Andre Villas Boas in 2013, this is hardly what Eriksen signed up for, yet he has largely embraced the challenge.
“I’m really happy wherever the ball is,” Eriksen says. “For me it doesn’t matter. Like I’ve said many times before, if it’s the left wing and if the ball is close to being there or you’re in a good position, I’ll play left. If the ball is on the right I’ll play right, or in the middle. For me it really doesn’t matter what position I play.”
Eriksen can’t be criticised too readily for wanting more money, either. The rewards might still sound extravagant to you or I, but Eriksen’s salary before signing his new deal was a (relatively) paltry £30,000 a week. By way of comparison, that’s half the wage of Ruben Loftus-Cheek at Chelsea. Even after signing his new contract, Eriksen’s weekly wage is still £45,000 lower than Ashley Young’s at Manchester United. For a 24-year-old international playmaker with an impressive free-kick record, he represents extraordinarily good value for money.
If Eriksen’s stuttering form was due to uncertainty, Stoke were the victims of a player with new-found purpose. Starting on the right with Dele Alli central, Eriksen produced easily his best display of the season. His season totals of five chances and two shots on target were both doubled in 90 minutes, while Eriksen provided two assists in a league match for only the third time under Pochettino.
Heung-Min Son was the beneficiary of Eriksen’s brilliance, the Dane outplaying Joe Allen on the right wing before pulling the ball back for the opener. Son’s second-half finish was sublime, but the move was started by Eriksen’s drive forward and square pass. “Christian’s passes for both my goals were unbelievable and I had to just touch the ball,” said a humble Son.
How quickly a mood can change. Only a week ago, Tottenham writers believed that Eriksen had the most to fear after Moussa Sissoko’s arrival at White Hart Lane. Now it’s impossible to think that anyone else in Pochettino’s squad has the Dane’s exact skill set. Supporters will hope that this is a sign of brighter things to come.