Christian Eriksen at Inter wasn’t particularly an effective move for the Milan club as the Dane moved out from Tottenham Hotspurs on a €20m transfer. An integral part of Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspurs, a regular starter and goal contributor for both country and club, Christian Eriksen split-up a 6-year-old relationship with the London club in January 2020, while José Mourinho was managing the club. Devastated with the 2019 UCL final loss and a disappointing league start in the 2019/20 season, the vexed Tottenham fans started blaming Eriksen for his long trophyless term at Spurs and a bit of off-form at that moment. Time came when Eriksen realized his time in England was over, He was looking for a new challenge in some other country, for some top team under a top manager.
“Even the fans you see on the street were like ‘Thank you, goodbye and good luck’. But I was still there. It was a bit weird. In my head and for my body, it is good that I am in a new place and I can start again. Of course, staying at Tottenham would also have been a solution but, for me, it just came down to wanting to try a new challenge in a new country. Once Inter came up it really wasn’t a difficult choice.”Christian Eriksen on leaving Spurs to join Inter Milan, via BBC Sport
As a consequence of such combined factors, Eriksen joined Conte’s Inter Milan, who was then battling Sarri’s Juventus for the Serie A. This January transfer of Eriksen at Inter saw Tottenham receive €20m for the Danish talisman. However, life in Italy wasn’t kind to Eriksen. A player of his calibre made only 17 appearances, out of which 8 as a starter, averaging as low as 42 minutes per game, for the remainder of the 2019/20 season. In this season, Inter lost the domestic league to Juventus, and Eriksen also became a rare victim of an incident, where he lost the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League in two consecutive seasons, for two different teams, as Inter fell short to Sevilla in the Europa League 2019/20 final. The new season post lockdown also did not go in his favour, as he managed to feature in only 4 matches as a starter out of the 8, he played, averaging 35 minutes per game for the Nerazzurri. What could have possibly gone wrong?
Eriksen at Inter: A new land, a new challenge
Christian Eriksen started his senior footballing career, playing for Ajax, after getting transferred from the Ajax academy to senior team. His youth career started in his native land Denmark. From Ajax, He went to Tottenham Hotspurs of London. Hence, his journey went from Denmark to the Netherlands and then to England and finally, Italy. Clearly, his move to Inter Milan was in a completely new land with a new environment with new teammates, and many players take time to adjust to a new surrounding and teammates. However, considering his calibre and stats of the first two seasons at Spurs, this reason doesn’t seem much convincing. Besides a new environment and teammates, what matters most of the times, is the connection with the team manager, and adjustment to his plans. This is the part, where Eriksen seemingly got stuck in Italy.
Was Eriksen really a part of Conte’s ‘plans’?
Antonio Conte usually prefers a 3-5-2 formation, be It is his time at Juventus, Chelsea, Italy national team or now, at Inter Milan. The 3-5-2 for Inter involves:
- A good ball-playing centre-back in the middle (the role usually played by Stefan de Vrij), who finds the 2 forwards (mainly Lukaku and Lautaro or Alexis Sanchez) through lob passes or breaks the defensive line to pass to the midfielders.
- The other 2 centre-backs will try to play the ball along the channels, to the 2 wingbacks.
- The 2 wingbacks or wide midfielders (currently Hakimi, Young, D’Ambrosio, Darmian, Perišić) who help during the attacks with crosses, change of wing, making it a 4-man attack, along with the 2 forwards and also during defending, making it a 5-man defence with 3 in the centre.
- A ball-winning defensive ‘anchorman’ midfielder like Marcelo Brozović, Arturo Vidal, who help in defence, win back the balls, and pass the ball to the other 2 midfielders or wingbacks pr sometimes drive forward, playing a pivotal role in a midfield triangle.
- 2 good central midfielders (like Sensi, Barella, Gagliardini), who can receive the balls and combine with the forwards or the wingbacks during an attack, forming a midfield triangle with the pivot.
- 2 fast central forwards, who are also good with headers, from the crosses provided by the wingbacks, or widely positioned CMFs during an attack.
It can be clearly understood that the attack of Conte’s Inter Milan mainly is focused through wing play, through crosses, wing overload, etc and sometimes also direct from the centre-backs, or the pivot midfielder breaking the lines. This clearly shows the needlessness of a playmaking attacking midfielder like Christian Eriksen at Inter. During his time at Tottenham under Pochettino, He played as an attacking mid either centrally or on the left, based on the formation which usually was either 4-3-2-1, 4-2-3-1 or a 3-4-2-1. Though He sometimes played a more central role rather than an attacking one, He never played in a pivotal defensive midfield role, or a mazella ( the 2 flanked box-to-box midfielders in a 3-man midfield) kind of role, instead, He preferred a trequartista ( attacking playmaker behind a striker) kind of role.
Antonio Conte confessed that the Eriksen at Inter was more of a ‘filling-the-void’ type, rather than a tactical one. With key men like Stefano Sensi, Marcelo Brozović injured at that moment, and Eriksen desperate to get a move out of Tottenham, It was an imminent transfer for Conte, as he thought “Eriksen can play in a few different roles, and We’ll see – it could be an option, but we need to work on it a lot more”. However, despite the calibre and abilities of Eriksen at Inter, He couldn’t show versatility and adapt to the play style of Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan. In fact, he was made to play within 24 hours of his transfer to Inter, due to the absence of key players in the midfield, against Fiorentina in the Italian Cup. It was kind of obvious that He did not click with a new playstyle. After that, He mainly featured from the bench, making only a few starts. Even if he started, he was subbed off quickly.
“We did not intend to use [Christian] Eriksen so soon, as He only started training with us on Tuesday, but Matias Vecino and Nicolo Barella were the only available midfielders”Antonio Conte on playing Eriksen within 24 hours of his transfer, via Rai Sport
“This is not what I dreamed of. I think all football players want to play as much as possible. It is never fun to sit on the bench, but the coach decides who plays.”Christian Eriksen on his life at Inter Milan via Rai Sport
What’s next for him?
Although Inter Milan might be in a fight for the 2020/21 Serie A title, Their humiliating elimination from the Champions League group stage has left Eriksen with lesser game time than last season, when He could at least feature in either domestic or European competitions due to the rotation of players, However, the elimination now left him with only the domestic matches to play for. However, it’s now upon him, whether he’d adapt to Conte’s ways, and find a place which needs his playmaking abilities. Transfer rumours and some sources claim that Inter would look to sell him for a lump-sum amount, seeing the Dane leave Inter in the upcoming 2021 January transfer window despite a 4-year contract with them, with these being his probable destinations:
- Borussia Dortmund- Fabrizio Romano via Calcio Mercato has stated that Dortmund was a club to table a loan offer for Eriksen, but Inter Milan refused to let go of such an important player on loan. However, in January the scenes may be different, with Dortmund manager sacked if the newly appointed manager requires the abilities of Eriksen, he might be on his way to a new country yet again.
- Arsenal- Italian newspaper Corriere Dello Sport reported that Conte was in need of a new defensive midfielder and Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka being his prime target. The move could see an Xhaka- Eriksen swipe, with the Dane moving back to London to play for Tottenham’s arch-rivals Arsenal, who are currently struggling in the league and seriously need a good playmaker in the team. However, it is slightly unlikely for Eriksen to return to England any time sooner.
- Manchester United- Another English club likely to be his next team, with their midfielder Paul Pogba desperate to get a move-out. Also, Conte seemingly stated he might go for a Fred-Eriksen swap, if needed, according to multiple reports in Italy.
- The club which next recruits his ex-boss Mauricio Pochettino within January, who might include Eriksen in his plans.
- His boyhood clubs like Ajax and Odense Boldklub, which might be a safer, but not an immediate choice for him now, but definitely in the ultimate stages of his career. Many players return to their boyhood clubs after having an illustrious career under the spotlight. However, the Danish playmaker is still far from the edge of his career, and would surely want to move to a top club.
What do you think went wrong for Eriksen at Inter and What maybe his next challenge? Let us know in the comment section below.