It’s Trophy Time For Spurs
...says Christian Eriksen. Should we hold our breath?
He may not have added a trophy to his mantelpiece, but there can be no doubting that Christian Eriksen achieved a lot in 2017-18. The Dane scored 14 goals for Tottenham – the best return of his club career – including Champions League strikes at home to European champions Real Madrid and away to the famously stingy Juventus, not to mention an unstoppable dipping rocket that helped to secure his club’s first win at Stamford Bridge in 28 years. On top of his goalscoring, Eriksen’s elegant playmaking helped the north Londoners to overcome the notable hurdle of playing their ‘home’ games at Wembley Stadium. They ended the campaign in a credible third place, ensuring a third consecutive season of Champions League football for Mauricio Pochettino’s men. Although surprisingly omitted from the shortlist for the 2017-18 PFA Player of the Year award, Eriksen was named in the PFA’s Premier League Team of the Season for the first time. Yet, despite all of that, his most recent campaign in a Spurs shirt will be remembered by many for a goal he saw chalked off. In the 63rd minute of Tottenham’s 2-1 win at Stoke in April, Eriksen swung a dangerous free-kick into the Potters’ penalty area. The looping ball deceived goalkeeper Jack Butland and nestled into the net. Eriksen wheeled away, as did Golden Boot-chasing marksman Harry Kane, who was initially credited with the winning goal. Later that evening, the goal was reassigned to Eriksen, before eventually being awarded to Kane on appeal a few days later. Some camera angles suggested Kane may have got the slightest of touches; others, that the England captain made no contact at all. Bizarrely, it briefly became the most talked-about issue in English football. “If Harry says he touched the ball, then it’s his goal,” the Dane tells FourFourTwo without hesitation. “Even if 50 cameras suggest something different, I believe Harry when he says he touched it. I never had any intention to get involved in that discussion. If it was his goal, it means I got an assist, and that’s fine with me. “Afterwards it ended up being a huge talking point – it was fun stuff for the rest of the world. It became a crazy meme about Harry claiming things. It probably went too far. “Now, though, I think it’s quite funny. I laugh about it a lot – and I think Harry does, too. “It’s crazy that it went that far. But that just shows how the press and social media can get things going.” The hubbub had barely died down when Eriksen headed off to Russia for Denmark’s World Cup. Having scored a sensational hat-trick in the second leg of their qualifying play-off against the Republic of Ireland, Eriksen was under pressure to inspire his team to emulate great Danish sides of the past and make a splash in the tournament. Setting up the winner against Peru in their opening match, before crashing in a belter against Australia in their second, certainly did the trick. Several pundits named the 26-year-old as one of the best players of the group stage, with many of them also marvelling at Eriksen’s impressive work rate – he covered 36km, more than any other player. Sadly for Eriksen, another strong personal showing against Croatia in the last 16 ended on a sour note. In the penalty shootout that followed their 1-1 draw, Eriksen’s spot-kick was brilliantly saved by Danijel Subasic as Denmark crashed out to the eventual finalists. There was little time to mope. With eyes on Spurs’ first season in their new stadium, and with so many of his club-mates spending the full four weeks out in Russia, Eriksen needs to hit the ground running if they’re to avoid a sluggish start.
How would you compare Tottenham’s 2017-18 to the previous season? Was there progress even though you finished a place lower in the league?
If you look only at the Premier League table, then we didn’t, but personally I think we improved compared to 2016-17. When you look at the
“IT WAS nICE TO BEAT REAL MADRID, A nD OUR STYLE MAKES THI nGS DIFFICUL T FOR THEM, BUT IT IS n’T SATISFYI nG THAT THEY REACHED THE FI nAL A nD WE DID n’T”
season as a whole, and focus in particular on how we performed in the Champions League, I think you would have to say it was a step forward. You scored the most goals you’ve ever scored in a single season and also made the PFA Team of the Year for the first time. Was 2017-18 your best season at Spurs? Yeah, I think so. It was also one of the most important seasons for me, because I was able to contribute throughout the whole season. There were no injuries or spells out of the team. I was involved in everything.
Is there any particular part of your game you feel you’ve improved?
No, not really. [ Laughs] I think it’s more that people now look at me as a player in a slightly different way. I would say, perhaps, that in contrast to previous seasons, I didn’t fade out of matches in the same way as maybe I did in the past. Even when I didn’t score a goal or get an assist, I always made a big contribution to the team. That may be a change that people have noticed. But as a player – in terms of my technical qualities – I don’t think I have changed much. The number of chances I created wasn’t higher than in previous seasons. It may actually have been lower. Last season I was just fortunate enough to put the ball in the back of the net myself on several occasions. It was great.
What was your highlight? Beating Real Madrid? Scoring at Chelsea?
For me, it was the away game against Juventus in the Champions League. The way we fought back [to 2-2] having gone 2-0 down early in the match was very impressive. The way we played in that match – and the great result we ended up getting – was a big statement. We all know how difficult it is to play away to Juventus, but we proved that we were able to compete with them. And we could have won when you look at the chances we created. The two matches you mention weren’t bad, either! These are memories I also look back at with immense joy. In the second leg of that Juventus last-16 tie, Spurs led 1-0 at Wembley but lost 2-1 and went of the Champions League. Just how disappointing was that, having won a group featuring Real Madrid – the holders and eventual winners – and Borussia Dortmund? It was a huge disappointment. As you say, the build-up to the Juve matches had been perfect – we were great in the group stage and created a lot of chances. We really showed the world the best of Tottenham. So, of course it was disappointing to exit the Champions League quite early. We were great in the first leg in Turin, and also in the second leg at Wembley, actually. Unfortunately, they had three clinical minutes where they took their chances. After that, it was too difficult for us to turn it around. It’s hard to say exactly what went wrong. Sometimes you give the opposition chances – and they took them. But if you look at the tie overall, they weren’t better than us.
Now that Real Madrid have been crowned European champions for a third successive season, how much satisfaction do you take from that group-stage win over them?
It was nice to beat them, but it isn’t satisfying that they reached the final and we didn’t. You can say the same about Liverpool, who we beat in the league a couple of weeks earlier. We beat both finalists, so in that way you could say that we should have been in the final – that’s one way of looking at it. We’ve proven that we can compete with the very best, but we need to take the final step.
What did Tottenham do right against Real Madrid that so many other teams around Europe didn’t manage to do?
I believe we played them at the right time. They had problems in the league and we were cruising. Also, I think the way we play is great against a team like Real Madrid: we aren’t afraid to push high and get the ball forward fast. I think our style of play is perfect to make it very difficult for Real Madrid. Even if we’re not playing at our best, we will always create chances. You mentioned that you beat Liverpool in the league last season, in a memorable 4-1 win at Wembley. Do you think you can match what they did last year in the Champions League? Definitely. Our early draws in the Champions League were harder than Liverpool’s, but we still created lots of chances against the teams we faced. If we can take the good things we did last season with us to the coming season, then I’m sure we’ll be successful. You were spotted dining out with Mauricio Pochettino (above left) in Copenhagen before the World Cup. What kind of relationship do you have with your manager at Tottenham? He suddenly called because he was visiting Copenhagen – it was quite random, as it’s not often you go out to have dinner with your manager! We have a very strong and professional relationship – when you’re the player and he’s the manager, it will always be a really professional relationship. I’m happy that he allows me to play the kind of football I want to play, and which I’m used to playing. He puts a lot of trust in me and that is a great feeling.
How much are you looking forward to playing in Tottenham’s new stadium this season?
It will be a bit weird to leave Wembley after we got used to playing there, but I believe it will be great for us, the fans and the club to get back to our own stadium in an upgraded version. It looks like a really huge and fantastic stadium, so I am very much looking forward to playing there this season.
What are your targets for the 2018-19 campaign?
Before every season, our aim is to do even better than we did in the previous season. Last year we improved in the Champions League but not in the league – so I guess our target will be to improve in both the Premier League and Champions League. That won’t be easy – we will really have to step up – but I believe we can do it. There has been a lot of talk that all this promise from Tottenham means nothing without winning things. Do you agree with that? Do Spurs have to start winning trophies? It wasn’t like that when I came to the club in 2013, but it is like that now. Throughout the last two seasons, there has been a lot of focus on us not winning trophies. People can say we haven’t won anything, but I think we have taken big steps forward compared to a few years ago.