When Christian Eriksen’s move from Tottenham to Inter Milan was completed in January, the Italian club announced it with a somewhat bizarre video featuring a sleeping Eriksen and the caption: “This dream is not for everyone.”
Unfortunately for the Dane, those words held more truth than he would have liked.
Barely a year later Eriksen’s time in Milan already looks to be drawing to a close, with rumours linking him with a move elsewhere when the transfer window opens in January.
Eriksen might look on with thoughts of what might have been when Inter face Real Madrid on Wednesday – the Spanish giants were strongly linked with the playmaker before he moved to Italy. Reports of his transfer to Madrid were front page news in the Marca and AS newspapers.
But why have things not worked out for a player who was once considered one of the best in the Premier League and who, at 28, should be in the prime of his career?
A dream that has turned into a nightmare
Eriksen spent seven years at Tottenham, during which time his stats were astonishing.
He created more chances (571), provided more assists (62), scored the most direct free-kicks (eight) and hit more goals from outside the area (23) than any other player in the Premier League.
They were the sort of stats that outshone even Manchester City star Kevin de Bruyne, so at £16.9m for a player aged 27 at the time it appeared Inter Milan boss Antonio Conte had done a superb bit of business.
Eleven months on, however, Eriksen has found his game time limited. He was mostly on the bench in his first half-season and has been in and out of the side so far this term.
“This isn’t what I dreamed of,” Eriksen said earlier this month in an interview with TV2.
“It is a bit of a strange situation, as the fans want to see me playing more and so would I, but the coach has different ideas and as a player I have to respect that.”
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Doing the business for Denmark, so why not Inter?
The contrast between Eriksen’s domestic form and his performances at international level is stark.
While he is yet to score a goal or even register an assist for Inter this season he has been a key figure for Denmark and has scored five goals in his past six games for them, including the winner against England on 11 October.
His lack of game time at Inter Milan is proving frustrating for Denmark fans.
“It is an important thing for us because we don’t have so many players to pick from,” journalist Sture Sando, who covers the Danish national team, told BBC Sport.
“Denmark fans are following how the players do at club level and if you look at the teams they play for – Inter Milan, Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund – it looks good, but how much do they get to play? It is definitely an issue.
“The situation with Eriksen at Inter Milan is not fruitful, and fans are keen for a solution to be found.”
So why hasn’t it worked out?
“One of the reasons is Conte’s system,” Milan-based football journalist Paolo Menicucci said. “He likes to have one deep-lying playmaker and two box-to-box midfielders but Eriksen doesn’t have those characteristics.
“Conte tried a few times to change the system and play Eriksen behind the forwards but it didn’t work.”
From training alone to almost sleeping on Lukaku’s sofa
Like pretty much anyone in any walk of life, Eriksen’s hopes for 2020 were certainly impacted by the emergence of a global pandemic.
Settling in a new country is a challenge at the best of times and the arrival of lockdown in Italy as it struggled to cope with Covid-19 made it even tougher for Eriksen.
At one stage the midfielder was practically living in Inter Milan’s training ground after failing to find an apartment for himself and his young family.
In an interview with Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, Eriksen said he even considered asking team-mates Romelu Lukaku and Ashley Young if he could sleep on their sofa.
“That was difficult,” Menicucci added. “But I think the biggest problem was the club considered Eriksen as a market opportunity. His contract was expiring so he was relatively cheap. Conte never really wanted him in my opinion and never really tried to adapt his team to him.”
What might have been?
As Eriksen’s time at Tottenham neared its end it had looked like Madrid would be his most likely destination.
It had been suggested that a switch to the Bernabeu was what Eriksen really hoped for, so the disappointment of not getting that move may also explain some of his struggles at Inter.
Real were said to have cooled their interest in Eriksen in the summer of 2019 to instead turn to Eden Hazard, a decision that in hindsight has not worked out, with the former Chelsea playmaker having endured an injury-plagued time in Madrid so far.
Meanwhile Inter appear to have already brought in their replacement for Eriksen, having signed Arturo Vidal in September. A more complete midfielder who was once viewed as one of the best box-to-box players in world football, Vidal suits Conte’s system better, pushing Eriksen further down the pecking order.
But if the Dane is selected to play against Real on Wednesday, it would present the midfielder with the opportunity to impress his one-time suitors once more.