Time for Eriksen to show his potential as he leaves Ajax for Tottenham Hotspur
It has finally happened. Christian Eriksen, the most lauded of all recent Eredivisie stars, has left Ajax. Today, Tottenham Hotspur confirmed the signing of the youngster from the Eredivisie giants for a reported fee of €12.5 million plus bonuses.
A move away from the Eredivisie has been a long time coming for the 21-year-old attacking midfielder and, although no fans of Dutch football are happy about this, there’s a sense of relief surrounding his departure. Not only because it brings an end to a very long and arduous transfer saga, but also because the youngster really does deserve a move to a bigger stage. To put it simply, Eriksen has outgrown the Eredivisie and it’s for his own good that he moves on.
The youngster was an integral part of the Ajax side which has now lifted three consecutive Eredivisie titles. Through his excellent passing, shooting and technical abilities as well as his skill, he created and scored an incredible amount of goals for Ajax. In terms of his performances and consistency, last season, in which he scored 14 and set up a further 24, was his best campaign in the red and white of the Amsterdam giants.
Although he has always looked like developing into a player capable of playing amongst the very elite of world football, he has had some criticism thrown his way throughout the years. Most notably, there was the lack of consistency as well as a tendency to get bored during a game and eventually fade out of it altogether. However, he has spent the last 12 months correcting these imperfections of his game and further developing the already brilliant aspects as well.
For the €12.5 million they have spent on Eriksen, Tottenham have received a very versatile young player with great talent and the potential to develop even further. Furthermore, as they look to gain Champions League football in the coming years, they have acquired an attacking midfielder with experience of going head-to-head against some of the biggest teams in the continent. Ajax have been fairly unlucky when it comes to the Champions League in recent years, having been drawn against the likes of Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Lyon, Manchester City and AC Milan in recent years, but Eriksen has shown his quality even against top sides. For instance, he was exceptional in his side’s 3-1 win over City, in which he was utilised as a false number nine for the very first time, and then again in the 2-2 draw in the reverse fixture.
Also, Eriksen possesses excellent vision and creativity, which, when coupled with his delivery of through balls, crosses and set pieces, leaves viewers in awe and creates a lot of danger for his side. Add in his intelligence and improved technical ability and you have a player who can make a huge difference for his side in and around the box. For examples this season, one only has to look at his impeccable pass to Siem de Jong in the opener against Roda JC, or else his goal to rescue a point for his side in a 3-3 draw with Heerenveen. With two goals and three assists in the first four games of the new campaign, Eriksen has shown that he has developed beyond this league.
He seems to be making a name for himself as a bit of a set-piece specialist, too. The former Odense Boldklub starlet has always been good with free-kicks, but he’s kicking it up a notch now. He scored a free-kick in a friendly against Georgia, then another two against Dynamo Dresden in July, a month later, he blasted one more past Wojciech Szczesny in the match against Poland. Then, within the first eight minutes of the opening league match of the 2013-14 campaign, Eriksen had sent two incredibly dangerous set pieces towards the Roda JC goal. One of those smacked off the bar, the other was a deadly delivery which made it easy for Ricardo van Rhijn to open the scoring for his team.
The improvement has been consistent following his move to Ajax from Denmark and there remains little doubt that Eriksen has made the right move in joining Tottenham. He isn’t the kind of player to take such decisions lightly, after all he’s been rejecting high profile clubs ever since he was a child in order to follow the path which leads to better and faster development.
At 14, he snubbed the chance to join Chelsea as he felt he would develop further and quicker in Amsterdam. He made the correct decision, emerging into the Ajax first team just four years later as yet another precocious young talent to burst into the side and blossom into a real star. At the end of his maiden season in the Eredivisie, he was crowned Ajax Talent of the Future and Danish Talent of the Year. Then, in 2011, he was crowned Dutch Football Talent of the Year, Ajax Talent of the Year and Danish Footballer of the Year. Such awards saw the interest in him increase and Manchester City came calling, but he quickly dismissed the Citizens – apparently within 10 seconds of hearing their offer. He didn’t think such a move would benefit him in the long-term as he felt he would spend too much time on the bench, choosing to stay with Frank de Boer’s team and steer them towards further glory.
Last summer, the intensity of the speculation regarding Eriksen and a move to the Premier League increased and it carried on throughout the entire 2012-13 season. Liverpool were apparently the club most likely to sign him, but dropped out. As the season came to an end, Borussia Dortmund’s interest became official as they looked to replace Mario Gotze, but they opted to sign Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who is three years older.
Next, Bayer Leverkusen came sniffing around, but the youngster rejected a multi-million euro contract from the Bundesliga club as he felt it wouldn’t necessarily be better for his development than staying with Ajax or going elsewhere.
Throughout this window, Eriksen insisted that a move isn’t necessary. If the sporting opportunities weren’t great, he wouldn’t leave. Entering the final year of his contract with Ajax, his love for the club and his loyalty (yes, a player with loyalty) saw him pledge to sign an extension if a move didn’t materialise to ensure the Dutch powerhouse didn’t lose him for free.
As the transfer window approaches its climax and the sale of Gareth Bale almost certain, Andre Villas-Boas and Tottenham Hotspur opened negotiations with Ajax and an agreement was soon reached. Despite the insistence that Eriksen’s next move would be to a side playing in the Champions League, he sees the London club as the logical step in his career. As well as teaming up with his former captain Jan Vertonghen as well as a familiar foe in Nacer Chadli, Eriksen is joining a remarkably ambitious team with a bright future. Tottenham have added some fantastic players so far this summer, with Roberto Soldado, Erik Lamela, Etienne Capoue, Chadli and Paulinho joining an already exciting team which boasts the likes of Hugo Lloris, Vertonghen, Kyle Walker, Moussa Dembele, Lewis Holtby and more. Spurs are building towards something great, it seems, and that ambition and strength persuaded Eriksen that White Hart Lane is the correct destination for him.
However, it won’t be easy for the 21-year-old. He was the main man at Ajax, and he leaves to join Tottenham as one of several candidates for his natural position. Dembélé, Lamela, Holtby and Gylfi Sigurdsson can all play in the attacking midfield role and are all exceptional players. It could take some time for the Denmark international to adapt to his new team and get used to life in London. Furthermore, he does have a subtlety to his game that the Spurs have been lacking until now. Comfortable with both feet (he scored 13 goals with his right, 10 with his left and 2 headers in the league during his Ajax period), blessed with a through pass as good as any, he’s really come of age this calendar year, adding an impressive eight goals and 12 assists to 20 league appearances in 2013. It’s hard to see Villas-Boas not doing anything to occupy the Danish creative fulcrum and in the end, he should be able to become a more than worthy first team player for the North London club.
Where now for Ajax?
It will probably be easier for him to blend in at Tottenham than it will be for Ajax to replace him. The reigning Eredivisie champions have no shortage of talented players who can play in that position. For instance, if Lucas Andersen is promoted into the senior team, he can be utilised on the left-wing, allowing Viktor Fischer to move into the middle and play behind the striker. Davy Klaassen is another youngster who can be brought in from the Jong Ajax team and play through the centre. Although promotion from within is one way to go, it would not be ideal as Ajax look to progress beyond the group stages of this season’s Champions League as it would leave them severely lacking depth. It was rumoured that Ajax attempted to bring new Chelsea player Marco van Ginkel in on loan, but Jose Mourinho’s side have rejected it. That news then means De Boer will most likely look to bring in Lerin Duarte from Heracles, the ideal replacement for Eriksen.
Duarte, valued at just €2.5 million, has the speed, creativity and general ability needed (not to mention a thunderous left foot) to slot into the Ajax team and limit the damage that the departure of Eriksen brings. With only a few days left in the transfer window, De Boer and his technical director Marc Overmars must act quick to replace the youngster if they are to ensure the team is strong enough to challenge for a fourth consecutive league title and ensure they remain in the Champions League beyond the winter break, the acquisition of 23-year-old Duarte is one they cannot pass up.
Eriksen’s move to Tottenham is one which creates two new eras. For the player himself, it marks the next step in a career full of promise and glory. For Ajax, they enter an important phase without an exceptional young talent who has been integral to their recent success. Eriksen now must prove that he is capable of blossoming into a world class star, while Ajax must show they have the talent and resources to keep improving and move forward with De Boer and his exciting young team without such a special player. Eriksen leaves with a great deal of goodwill and has provided many memorable moments in the red and white of Ajax, but now he can move on and show what he can do on a bigger stage.