Christian Eriksen’s January move to Inter represented a fresh start for the Danish playmaker who had long been talking about his desire to ‘try something new’.
However, it also saw the resurrection of a worn-out concept that should have been killed off years ago: transfer announcement videos.
Between Eriksen‘s horribly wooden acting and some baffling mixed metaphors, the former Tottenham Hotspur man trots out onto the central balcony of Milan’s La Scala opera house as an orchestra plays. Six months later and Eriksen has been shunted to the proverbial cheap seats, barely able to convince his manager Antonio Conte to give him more than a handful of minutes.
However, after finishing as Serie A runners-up, Eriksen could prove key to Inter’s last hope of silverware in Conte’s debut season.
Conte’s recent outbursts against Inter’s hierarchy are just the latest in a long list of moans and groans from the former Chelsea and Juventus manager this season. Back in November, Conte’s ire was focussed on the club’s summer recruitment, as the 51-year-old lamented the lack of experience their arrivals possessed.
Inter’s manager winged: “We are talking about a group of players who, apart from [Diego] Godin, haven’t won anything,” he told Sport Mediaset (via Football Italia). “It’s difficult then to deal with a tough situation. Who do I call on? Nicolò Barella, who we signed from Cagliari? Or Stefano Sensi, who arrived from Sassuolo?”
In the winter transfer window Conte’s somewhat disparaging comments about two midfielders who have performed well this season were rewarded with the arrival of Victor Moses, Ashley Young and, of course, Eriksen.
Young and Moses – who have adapted quickly to their wingback roles – represented a minimal outlay while Eriksen’s arrival was forced through for €20m – six months before he would become a free agent.
The Denmark international has struggled to make a significant impact in Italy.
After starting his first league game against Udinese which ended before the hour mark, Eriksen was a substitute for the next three, huge games. Inter scrapped past Milan in the derby before losing to title rivals Lazio and Juventus to all but end their tilt at the championship.
In the pandemic hit days after the Juve defeat, Eriksen was forced to stay at Inter’s training ground until he found a home of his own.
There was sound logic behind Eriksen’s addition. Conte’s side had drawn five of their seven league games before his debut, slipping behind Juventus at the table’s summit and Atalanta’s Alejandro Gómez explained to El País how the Nerazzurri’s approach had become predictable: “Inter only had one move: playing out from the back, from the centre-back to one of the wingers, who crossed first time for the strikers, [Romelu] Lukaku and Lautaro Martínez.
“One looks to hold the ball up and the other gets in behind. And then the team moves up. We put our two centre-backs man-to-man with Lukaku and Lautaro. We won the ball back from them and we attacked.”
Until Eriksen’s arrival, Conte had exclusively deployed his side in a 3-5-2 formation. To incorporate his new playmaker – and pose a different question to the opposition – Conte experimented with a 3-4-1-2 with Eriksen behind the two strikers.
In the club’s first Serie A game of the restart against Sampdoria, the attacking trident of Eriksen behind Lukaku and Lautaro combined wonderfully for the game’s opening goal.
Yet this proved to be just a brief glimmer of promise which never truly materialised in the remainder of the domestic campaign. In 17 Serie A matches, Eriksen finished the season with one goal and two assists – two-thirds of that return came in a 6-0 win over relegation-bound Brescia.
However, while Eriksen’s impact in the league proved to be minimal at best, the same cannot be said of his brief outings in this season’s Europa League.
Inter’s number 24 contributed to goals in the home and away legs against Ludogorets in the previous round and continued that streak when the competition resumed on Wednesday night.
In the one-off round of 16 game against Getafe, Inter’s Spanish opponents were the better side for the majority of the match, suffocating their Serie A opposition with a well-drilled press. Lukaku’s opening goal after half an hour was an impressive feat of clever timing, strength and precision – but was also against the run of play.
Five minutes prior to Eriksen’s introduction – his third consecutive appearance coming on after the 80th minute – Getafe missed a penalty which would have levelled proceedings.
Eriksen’s first three touches of the match saw him control a testing pass after an incisive run in behind Getafe’s backline, set the tireless Danilo D’Ambrosio away down the right and sweep a loose, bouncing ball past the goalkeeper to make it 2-0.
Conte’s latest gripe has concerned the growing fatigue of his squad but the well-rested Eriksen can hardly fall into this category. The Dane has struggled to justify the €20m price tag which could have been avoided entirely had the club waited six months.
Now the Europa League provides an opportunity for Eriksen to return to centre stage and orchestrate the capture of the club’s first trophy for almost a decade.