Forget the narrative… Eriksen ruined Kante with two touches of 24K gold
Watch any of Christian Eriksen’s post-match interviews from the games since his return to football and you will see the same glazed-over look in his eyes as the interviewer rehashes that same unavoidable line of questioning.
His interlocutors search for some great, deep meaning in all this – in his return to football after the cardiac arrest that nearly cost Eriksen his life and horrified the watching world – and Eriksen, well, Eriksen just looks a little non-plussed.
The Dane’s story is soaked in the rich, thick gravy of narrative. Not only a narrative but a positive one.
That we are so engrossed is natural. Watching Eriksen drift so close to the precipice of death on live television spoke to our deepest fears; that he has come back is genuinely remarkable. It also couldn’t have happened to a more humble, pleasant, unassuming bloke.
It is a diamond of a story in the sea of sorrowful shit that saturates our newsfeeds. So whenever an interviewer gets the chance to talk to Eriksen, attempting to dip their reporter’s ladle into that narrative gravy is understandable.
For Eriksen, though, it all appears to be getting a little tedious, a little repetitive. How many times can you reword the answer to that question of how it feels and what it means to be back?
Yet instead of shutting down the questions with his words, Eriksen is doing his best to shift the focus with his feet.
And with a virtuoso, goalscoring display in Brentford’s 4-1 destruction of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, he reminded us that as much as we might want to dwell on his role as a fairy-story hero, he is a footballer first and foremost – and a footballer who drips with imperious class.
Indeed, he has been trying his damndest to remind us of that fact for weeks. First with his delicious dipping assist that won Brentford a crucial six-pointer against Burnley. Then with the two goals for Denmark during the international break – especially the second, a delightful curling effort just yards from the spot where he collapsed during the Euros.
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Still, the heart-warming narrative completely (and understandably) dominated the reaction to each of those moments.
But following the Chelsea game, the talk has noticeably shifted, if not entirely.
There were plenty of ‘Eriksen’s first Premier League goal since…’ headlines, of course.
But now there are also examples of delightfully mundane football gossip among those narrative-fuelled pieces. ‘Will he sign a new contract with Brentford?’, the Mail asks. ‘Might he return to Spurs or make a surprise switch to Manchester United?,’ the Express speculates.
And if we are looking to pinpoint a reason for the shift in emphasis, we need look no further than Eriksen’s first-half, two-touch destruction of N’Golo Kante.
Eriksen’s second-half goal that effectively sealed Brentford’s win was a joyous moment. The smile on Eriksen’s face as he tucked it away told you just how joyous.
But the ease with which he dispatched his French World Cup-winning opponent with just nine minutes gone told you that there’s no longer reason to doubt that every ounce of skill and intelligence he used to display weekly at White Hart Lane remains in his possession.
Eriksen received a difficult bouncing ball in the middle of the park with N’Golo Kante breathing down his neck. Read that again: N’Golo Kante! This is one of the finest midfielders in the league, an arch-presser, Chelsea’s one-man footballing gravitational collapse, a force whose pull it is impossible to escape.
Yet the good ship Eriksen was unaffected by the usual laws of physics. He simply slid his body between Kante and the ball and shielded it just long enough to force Kante to his right.
The Denmark international then took a touch to knock it out of the Frenchman’s orbit and, with a swoosh of his left boot, sent a pass shooting into the abyss behind Marcos Alonso, into which Mads Roerslev was running.
It came to nothing, but it was a pure, 24-carat-gold display of everything Eriksen embodies. What would have been impossible for most players, he’d made look easy. But that is what he does, what he’s always done.
If you sign Eriksen, you are buying a few goals a season, sure – and one of those helped Brentford secure the three points. But what you really want is that exceptional poise, that vision, that almost unparalleled creativity. Eriksen is football’s space-time controller.
Brentford have him for now, and he is pointing the way to another season in the Premier League. In the three games he’s started for the Bees, they’ve picked up nine points.
It was little surprise when Thomas Frank told reporters: “I’m just very pleased he’s playing for us. It’s no secret that I want him to continue [at Brentford] next season.”
But his genius makes him attractive to clubs with pockets deeper than Brentford’s. With his football, Eriksen is saying more than he could in 1000 interviews. Soon, the narrative will shift for good.
His tribulations will become a memory – a bad one, but a bad one with the best possible outcome.
Then there’ll be another question on everyone’s lips, one of his future. This is a man with football left to play, feats left to achieve.
The cardiac arrest is a significant part of his story, and always will be, but Eriksen’s legacy will be greater than one terrible moment and the against-the-odds comeback.
He’s one of the finest playmakers of his generation, one we thankfully get to watch every week.
For now, then, let’s just enjoy him and let him enjoy the moment. No context, no narrative, no speculation. Just a football genius as his golden best.
By Joshua Law