Wednesday 15 November 2017 09:06, UK
Ahead of a crucial period for club and country, Christian Eriksen speaks to Sky Sports about how Mauricio Pochettino has transformed Tottenham, what he learnt from Dennis Bergkamp at Ajax, and why Harry Kane is the perfect striker to play with.
"A lot has happened in the last few years," Christian Eriksen tells Sky Sports. Over the next few days the 25-year-old will contest a make-or-break World Cup play-off with Denmark against the Republic of Ireland and a potentially explosive north London derby with Tottenham against Arsenal, but first he pauses to reflect on the journey so far.
It is over four years since he arrived at Spurs as one of seven new signings intended to offset Gareth Bale's departure to Real Madrid. Players and managers came and went in the tumultuous period that followed, but Eriksen's place was never in doubt. He is now one of the club's longest-serving players and a talismanic figure in their remarkable transformation under Mauricio Pochettino.
"A lot of things have changed," he continues. "Everything, really, both on and off the pitch. Everything has been put into what we all wanted at Spurs. Everybody wanted to become a top team and that is what we have tried to do. I think we are getting closer than ever before."
From fifth to third to second, Spurs have improved from season to season since Pochettino's appointment. Manchester City's record-breaking start to the campaign suggests it will be difficult to take the final step and win the Premier League title this year, but Spurs made their biggest statement yet with last week's emphatic 3-1 win over Real Madrid.
It was fitting that Eriksen was at the heart of it, quietly pulling the strings in midfield and dispatching the third goal with typical calmness. It is already shaping up to be another stellar season for a player who has missed just five Premier League games out of 125 under Pochettino.
"He has given stability not only to me but to the whole club," says Eriksen. "That's the main thing for a player. You feel comfortable, you feel aware of everything around you and you don't think about anything other than football when you're on the pitch. All the players have long-term contracts. They feel safe being here. It's why you commit your future to a place like this."
Pochettino has described Eriksen as Tottenham's 'special one' and the admiration is certainly mutual. "He gives his players a lot of confidence and he trusts to let them play," he says. "I have played a lot of games under the manager now. He knows what I'm good for and what I'm not good for but he trusts me completely. You feel that trust and it makes you want to do everything for him."
The trust runs right the way through Tottenham's young, hungry squad. "We are young lads who want to develop and be even better in the future and play as many games as possible," says Eriksen. "Of course there is competition for places but it's different to other clubs where you have very experienced players coming in. It's a good young group and we all want the same thing."
The group comes first at Spurs and no player typifies that attitude quite like Eriksen. The midfielder is a cool-headed character on and off the pitch. He has little interest in chasing headlines and is as calm and measured in the way he talks as he is with a ball at his feet.
"I don't mind who takes the spotlight," he says. "If you win the game, then it doesn't really matter. Of course it's nice to get recognition, but I'm not looking for it. I just do my thing. If it comes, it comes. But it's not what you play for. I just want to be as involved as possible on the pitch."
He has certainly succeeded on that front. Harry Kane and Dele Alli are the stars of this Tottenham team but Eriksen is the man who makes them tick. Since his arrival at the club in 2013, only Arsenal's Mesut Ozil has created more scoring chances. Eriksen's total of 361 puts him ahead of both Eden Hazard and David Silva.
"That's the player I am," he says. "I'm the player who wants to create something and to help get the team out of trouble with the ball in certain situations. I'm capable of doing it and I trust I can do it. I think my team-mates know that if they play me the ball, they will get it back in the right way, with the right timing and with the right pace. It's about feeling the connection."
Eriksen has been honing those skills since his teenage years at Ajax. He was 16 when he made the move from Denmark to Holland and went on to make more than 150 senior appearances for the club before he had even turned 21. "I definitely think it shaped me as a player," he says. "I felt I was good in Denmark, but I wasn't that good when I arrived at Ajax."
It was there that Eriksen developed the awareness and anticipation that set him apart today. "In my first year at Ajax we had some sessions with Dennis Bergkamp and Wim Jonk," he recalls. "We did this passing drill with a striker from the team. We worked on certain movements, learning how to measure his runs and then passing the ball to exactly the right place at exactly the right moment.
"Even then, you could always see Dennis's charisma and confidence on the ball. He always knew how to take his first touch and where the ball needed to end up afterwards. I learned a lot from watching him and working with him. It helped me when I made it through to the first team."
It has helped him at Tottenham, too, where he has struck up the same kind of understanding with Kane. "He's the perfect striker, I think," says Eriksen, who will be sporting Nike's new Ice colourway this month. "He scores goals, he helps the team, he can hold the ball, he can use his head. He can do a bit of everything. We have a good connection. Harry knows where to run and I know how to find him, so it's a good mix."
Kane loves Eriksen for the service he provides but for Pochettino his work-rate is similarly important. The Dane may be graceful with the ball but he is as aggressive as anyone without it, regularly topping the charts for distance covered and sprints and setting the pace for their ferocious pressing.
"Our pre-season is always very, very tough," he says with a chuckle. "Of course nobody likes to run just for fun, but it means everyone is in very good shape throughout the season. It's something you gain from playing games but it's also from training at a higher level. We do that and it helps."
Eriksen now hopes to help Tottenham continue their seemingly relentless improvement under Pochettino. "Our target every season is to improve on whatever we have done in the previous season," he says. "We want to do what we did last year - just a little bit better. After that we'll see where we end up."
Christian Eriksen wears the Nike Magista Obra II, designed for unstoppable playmaking. Available now from Nike.com