Erik­sen praises Po­chet­tino’s regime for adding strength to his sor­cery

Tot­ten­ham play­maker tells Jonathan Liew his mag­i­cal form is down to the coach de­mand­ing so much of him

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - JAMES DUCKER -

C hris­tian Erik­sen is no­body’s idea of a work­horse. Per­haps it is that un­hur­ried style of his, the easy gait, the time he seems to have on the ball. But any Tot­ten­ham fan will tell you that Erik­sen is one of the hard­est, strong­est run­ners in English foot­ball: de­cep­tively quick, qui­etly re­lent­less.

“I’ve al­ways been a player on the move,” he says. “It’s not be­cause I like run­ning. I like get­ting the ball. If you are smart, you don’t need to run.”

In the past few weeks, that hard work has fi­nally been pay­ing off. Urged by man­ager Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino to “dom­i­nate” games more of­ten, Erik­sen has re­sponded with five goals and three as­sists in his past seven matches. Ahead of cru­cial games against Wat­ford this af­ter­noon and Chelsea, Tot­ten­ham are at the door of the top four, and in Erik­sen they pos­sess one of the Pre­mier League’s finest lock­smiths.

“I’ve never been one to go past 20 play­ers on the wing,” he ex­plains. “I’m al­ways go­ing to be the guy sneak­ing the ball through, to build and cre­ate some­thing. The one I most ad­mire is [An­dres] Ini­esta. His style of play has been fan­tas­tic for years. Of course, they run less at Barcelona as they al­ways have the ball …”

The best way of de­scrib­ing Erik­sen (right) is as a clas­sic play­maker with a jagged edge. When Tot­ten­ham are in pos­ses­sion, he cre­ates and roams like a No 10. But when pos­ses­sion is lost, he hounds and har­ries with more en­ergy than vir­tu­ally any­one else. “The style we play at Spurs, you need every­one to press, so it is dif­fi­cult to just walk around,” he says. “If you played as a No 10 be­fore, they could chill and do what­ever. I don’t think that is pos­si­ble any­more.”

This is Erik­sen’s fourth sea­son in English foot­ball. And al­though he was al­ways a su­perb ath­lete, the phys­i­cal de­mands of the Pre­mier League have sculpted him. There is more mus­cle on the bones than when he ar­rived from Ajax as a 21-year-old, a legacy of Po­chet­tino’s com­pul­sory gym ses­sions.

“The body mass is go­ing a lit­tle bit up, and the body fat has gone down a bit,” he says. “So I’m in very good shape. I’ve al­ways been a run­ner. But the power, the ag­gres­sion that he [Po­chet­tino] re­ally likes, that’s prob­a­bly changed a bit.”

Tot­ten­ham’s pin-sharp phys­i­cal con­di­tion­ing was so ev­i­dent in their ti­tle chal­lenge last sea­son. But with the crush­ing fi­nale, and the dis­trac­tion of in­ter­na­tional tour­na­ments in the sum­mer, per­haps it was in­evitable, I sug­gest, that there would be a drop in in­ten­sity when the squad re­con­vened for pre-sea­son train­ing.

Erik­sen meets the ques­tion with an in­cred­u­lous smirk. “It was worse,” he says. “Not worse – harder. Be­cause we were still in good shape, but he wanted us to be in even bet­ter shape. The year be­fore, we didn’t know what we would be able to do. But this year, they know ev­ery­body, and they were able to push us a bit more.” But if Po­chet­tino is an ex­pert in di­alling up the in­ten­sity, he knows when to dial it down too. With a gap of 10 days be­tween games over the fes­tive pe­riod, he gave his side some time off, al­low­ing Erik­sen to re­turn home and see his fam­ily on Christ­mas Day for the first time in three years. “He’s a good guy,” Erik­sen says. “If there is any­thing to say, you can go to him. Of course, if any­thing is wrong he will say so as well. But you want to play for the man­ager. And you want to be in his team.” The prob­lem for Tot­ten­ham is that al­though they ac­tu­ally have more points than at this stage last sea­son, every­one else has raised their game too. And no­body more so than Chelsea, who sit clear at the top of the Pre­mier League. Their trip to White Hart Lane on Wed­nes­day has the mak­ings of one of the sea­son’s defin­ing games.

“They’ve been im­pres­sive,” says Erik­sen. “We will do what­ever we can to close the gap. The first aim is to get in the top four. Af­ter, we’ll see. We’ll keep fight­ing un­til the end. Like the movies.”

There was cer­tainly no lack of com­mit­ment at the squad’s fancy dress Christ­mas party, judg­ing by the pho­tos which leaked out on to so­cial me­dia. Dele Alli went as Ali G, Harry Kane went as Bane, the vil­lain from the Batman films. Mousa Dem­bélé was the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Kyle Walker was Mrs Doubt­fire. Erik­sen’s choice was strangely ap­pro­pri­ate. “My girl­friend men­tioned that it could be funny go­ing as Harry Potter,” he says. “It looked very life­like, as I’ve seen the films – I’m not a book reader.”

For Tot­ten­ham’s boy wiz­ard, now 24 years old and close to full ma­tu­rity as a player, you would be tempted to de­scribe this as some­thing of a cross­roads. Ex­cept that a few months ago he spurned the at­ten­tions of big­ger clubs to ex­tend his con­tract at Tot­ten­ham to 2020, a sign that he wants to spend his best years in Po­chet­tino’s fam­ily. “The more sta­ble you are, if you have the same man­ager, mostly the same play­ers, it makes it eas­ier,” he ex­plains. “It gives a bit of com­fort. It’s not like, ‘He’s go­ing to leave in a week any­way’. You know what you have to work for. And that gives you a good feel­ing.”

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