Christian Eriksen is a Red Devil
By now it certainly is not news that Christian Eriksen has signed for Manchester United. But, I still can’t help write this article without a profound sense of shock and awe. Even at the age of 30, after enduring a cardiac arrest while playing for Denmark, he showed with Brentford last season that he is still one of the best midfielders in the Premier League.
It was an absolute privilege to see him stride out onto the pitch at Old Trafford on Sunday in our last pre season game against Rayo Vallecano. I admit I got a little giddy when I saw his name on the team sheet in the starting eleven.
For the Manchester United front office to have pulled off this coup, considering our executive team’s track record, is miraculous. Historically speaking, Ed Woodward and Co. preferred to go for the big flashy signing. Eriksen may end up being our flashiest signing this summer, but he doesn’t have the social media pull that a player like Pogba or Ronaldo might have.
Combine Eriksen’s past success and clear talent with our front offices’ ineptitude and you’d expect him to go elsewhere. A team, let’s say…in a better position to win a trophy than Manchester United.
A Man of Honor
Also consider that over the last few weeks, sentiment appeared to be a large factor in Eriksen’s decision. According to media reports, he was seriously considering Brentford’s offer, because they gave him a road back into the Premier League. He also had offers on the table from several other Premier League teams.
It seems as if he had enough respect for his last club and the opportunity they presented him with that he almost acquiesced to the temptation of returning the favor.
But, the lure of our great club was too much for the Denmark international. So now that we have managed to sign Eriksen, what will he bring to our squad? There is a lot of speculation around this question. Speculation which I am all to happy to now add to.
No one can seem to agree om whether he is going to be the next Paul Scholes or if he is going to play a bit part behind Bruno and potential incoming signing Frankie de Jong. There is an awful lot to consider, when making predictions about Eriksen’s potential success or position with United.
Christian Eriksen in Numbers
Lets talk numbers. Throughout his whole domestic and international career as well as last season with Brentford, Eriksen ranked in the 93+ percentile for most attacking statistics except non penalty goals and expected goals per game.
He ranked in the 99th percentile for shot creating passes, expected assists, progressive passing, passing accuracy, and shots on goal. Essentially, he is a creative force on the field. Last season with the Bee’s he created 53 chances that directly led to a shot on target. He also had an expected goal involvement of .89 per game.
That means that Eriksen was directly involved in 4 out of 5 goals scored while at Brentford. Whether through a key pass, assists, set pieces and scoring himself.
If all of this seems a bit drab, but know it puts Eriksen ahead of 99% of all Premier League midfielders. His statistics put him in the same echelon as Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, Son Heung-Min, and Sadio Mane. While also bettering that of our own Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba.
Eriksen is So Much More Than Numbers
Simply put his ability to control a game, progressive passing, creativity and goal involvement produced some of the best numbers in the league last season. And this is only the tip of this Danish iceberg.
In total, Christian Eriksen has led Ajax to three Eredivisie titles, and two Dutch domestic cups. He led Tottenham to a Football League and a Champions League final. While at Inter he led them to a Europa League final and a Serie A title.
All the while he was named Danish player of the year five times, Tottenham player of the season twice, and was voted into the top ten for the Ballon d’Or on 4 occasions.
In spite of doing this from midfield, there seems to still be some hesitation from United fans. There also appears to be little agreement about the roll Eriksen might play at United. Some suggest that his cardiac arrest might result in him not being able to cope with a full-time roll. Others suggest that he might be competing with Bruno and Donny for the only no. 10 spot we have.
Now, before I continue I should give full warning that there is a lot of sensitive information in the next part this article. Information about Christian Eriksen’s horrific cardiac arrest that may for some be disturbing and uncomfortable to read. Please stop here if you do not wish to read on.
Christian Eriksen Suffers Cardiac Arrest
We should probably start by addressing the elephant in the room.
As a retired sports medicine rehab specialist and physiotherapist, I feel it is important to fully understand the nature of Eriksen’s cardiac arrest. First, there is a major difference between a cardiac arrest and a heart attack. Unfortunately, the two tend to get inter-colloquialized.
A cardiac arrest is specifically when, for any number of reasons, the heart’s ability to pump blood out to various body parts and organs is disrupted. While a heart attack is specifically when an artery feeding oxygen rich blood to the heart muscle itself becomes obstructed preventing blood flow to the that muscle.
While two can be linked and can occur simultaneously, they are distinctly different and happen in isolation of each other more often than not. The reason I harp on the difference is because the diagnoses of one without the other has significantly different implications to recovery and prognoses. I’ll focus mostly on said prognoses for cardiac arrest as that is what Eriksen sustained.
What is Cardiac Arrest?
There are a few reasons a cardiac arrest can occur. The best of all evils is if the incident is triggered by faulty regulation of your heart’s intrinsic electrical conductivity. As an evolutionary failsafe, the heart has the ability to produce its own electricity separate from your brain, spinal cord and nerves.
For reasons that can be genetic or environmental in nature, a person can be born with or develop “faulty wiring” in the heart. This can take years to manifest into symptoms, or a person can experience symptoms from birth depending on the severity of the arrhythmia (an irregular heart beat).
Regardless, when an arrest occurs it is vital to get medical attention to the person immediately.
The longer the heart is not beating properly, or at all, the longer the brain is starved of oxygen rich blood. That is the real concern when treating a cardiac arrest. The body has the ability to briefly continue producing energy without the presence of oxygen during an arrest.
The brain is not afforded this luxury. So, the longer the brain is starved of oxygen and nutrients, the more brain damage that can occur and the worse the patient’s prognoses is.
Christian Eriksen was Lucky
Lucky for Eriksen, he collapsed in the middle of a game. The medical team was to him in less than 30 seconds. They had begun applying CPR before he completely lost a pulse, which means that his brain was never really starved of significant amounts of oxygen, even though he was technically without an independent heartbeat for almost five minutes.
What is a tad odd is as a professional athlete your health is constantly and meticulously monitored. If, as in Eriksen’s case, he had a cardiac arrest due to this faulty wiring, there are usually cursory symptoms. Symptoms that you expect at least one of the well-paid medical teams at any of the clubs he’s played for, or Denmark, to pick up.
It is not unheard of to sustain a cardiac arrest with no cursory symptoms, and it would seem that Eriksen is part of this group. But it is not the norm, and so without warning the worst happened.
Terror Strikes, as the Stadium Falls Silent
On 12, June 2021 Christian Eriksen collapsed on the field in the 41st minute while playing for Denmark against Finland in their opening game of the Euro 21 tournament. An experience Eriksen said was an ‘unlucky experience in a lucky place.’
When the team doctor reached him, he was initially breathing and had a pulse, but that changed within seconds of his arrival. CPR was applied to Eriksen while his teammates surrounded him forming a wall to protect the crowd and tv viewers from having to witness such a traumatic event.
After almost five minutes of resuscitation continuing to be unsuccessful a defibrillator was applied. It only took a single shock, Eriksen had a normal heart rhythm. 15 minutes of continued treatment with oxygen and CPR had passed before he was finally stretchered off the field and taken to hospital.
The Fear of Not Knowing
Eriksen describes his experience as one of confusion and terror. He was technically dead for 5 minutes. When he regained consciousness he couldn’t move his legs or figure out why his chest hurt so much. He recalled the confusion of not knowing if he had broken his back or been knocked out by an opposing player.
He had no idea that he had a cardiac arrest. When he was told what happened moments after he regained consciousness his response was ‘for fuck sake, I’m only 29.’
Following several hours of observation at the hospital, Eriksen was declared in stable condition. After sending a message of ‘all’s good’ to his teammates the Euro game was resumed. Sadly, and understandably Denmark lost.
Eriksen is Has an ICD Implanted
Eriksen’s doctors determined that an ICD was required to regulate his heart rhythm. An ICD is a device that is implanted in the chest, and essentially gives the heart a mild shock if the device notices an irregularity in the persons heartbeat to bring it back to a normal rhythm.
The shock is usually mild enough and early enough in the development of the irregular heartbeat that the incident can be very mild or at least sub traumatic. While also preventing potential death almost 100% of the time.
In Christian’s case, the irregularity in his heartbeat occurs so seldomly that the ICD is more of a safety precaution now that he has a known diagnosis.
Football Welcome Back Christian Eriksen
After cardiac rehab, Eriksen wanted to return to football, a goal his doctors believed to be absolutely possible. Unfortunately, many professional sports leagues around the world have antiquated and stigmatizing rules in place that stipulate players cannot play with an ICD.
Until about 2015, research into ICD’s in athletes was scant at best. Thus, it was always the assumption that patients with an ICD shouldn’t be playing any sports more strenuous than golf. The common belief was that stressing the heart would likely trigger an event so patients should maintain a more mild and regulated lifestyle.
This however, is a ruleset based on out of date and incomplete knowledge. The medical community now subscribes to quite the contrary.
What Does the Research Say?
The research, is very clear. Studies conducted by Yale, the Mayo Clinic, Princeton and Stanford since 2015 all agree. Athletes with an ICD are at extremely low risk of triggering the device or developing an arrhythmia because of their physical activity.
In fact, on average only 10% of athletes with ICD’s who were allowed to engage in high level sports triggered their device. This number is about the same or less in some cases than patients with an ICD forced to remain sedentary. And of those 10 percent that did trigger their ICD during activity, none required hospitalization or lifesaving intervention.
Unfortunately, the Italian Leagues are one of the leagues that prevents players with ICD’s from playing. At the time of his arrest, Eriksen’s club team was Inter Milan. So, Eriksen was forced out of the club and had to find a new home to continue his push to full fitness.
Eriksen Joins up with Erik ten-Hag
Eriksen, with the backing of the entire medical community was encouraged to get back to sports. He found a new home, eventually settling in Amsterdam with our new coach Erik ten-Hag’s Ajax. Ten-Hag allowed Eriksen to train with the Dutch side while he got back to full fitness.
He clearly impressed with his time with Ajax otherwise I don’t imagine ten-Hag would have pushed for a moved for the Dane. His spell with Brentford only did more to make Eriksen’s case to return to a topflight club. As I previously said, his numbers where some of the best in the league with the Bees.
So, while Italy may choose to continue to stigmatize athletes with manageable medical histories, their loss in Erikson is the Premier Leagues gain. To assume that his recent medical history is a handicap and cause to hyper regulate his playing time is simply naïve.
Eriksen vs Bruno
So, I then redirect this argument to the second pessimistic point of Eriksen skeptics. Eriksen and Bruno play in the same position and therefore cannot play in the same team. To this I say bullshit. To think that two footballers of Eriksen and Bruno’s level cannot play across multiple positions and play off of each other is simply too narrowminded an approach from a manager of ten-Hag’s pragmatism.
I would also point said nay-sayers in the direction of Eriksen’s heat maps over the years. While he tends to pop up on team sheets as a no10, he spends most of his time either off the left of a morphic front three or as a progressive no8.
In the system that our new manager wants to play in, which seems to be a 4-3-3, we only need one holding/transitional midfielder and two no.8’s. Ideally that one player would not be the likes of Fred or McTominay. Hence why United are still heavily linked with de Jong and a host of back up targets.
How Eriksen Fits into ten-Hag’s System
Especially if United sign the likes of de Jong, Neves, Tielemans, or Milinkovic-Savic as we are touted to, it’s not outside of the stretch of imagination to see Bruno, Eriksen and Donny rotating two of the three midfield three positions. While ‘insert new midfielder’s name here’ would provide an outlet for our defense and can transition the ball forward.
In ten-Hag’s preferred style, our central defenders step out of defense to push the ball up field. While through a full field press, the team pushes so far up the pitch, there is no room for a CDM.
A holding or transitional midfielder (different to a defensive midfielder) sits back to receive the ball from the defense. The wing backs sprint up field to provide width of play and allow space for the transitional midfielder to turn and have options.
The other two midfielders, almost playing as two no8’s (Eriksen and Bruno) push up field to support a no9 as our right and left forwards provide decoy and overlapping runs or cut inside for support. For this system to work you need to play high up the field while applying full press when out of possession.
Its very similar to how Fergie would set with Teves, Rooney and Berbatov as the front three, Scholes and Carrick/Giggs as no.8’s and Hargreaves or Fletcher in the transitional no.6 roll. Rio would step out of defense to push the ball up field while Neville and Evra would fly up the wings spreading the width of the pitch.
Ten-Hag is not a Fan of CDM’s
It would appear ten-Hag, wants to play this system, similar to the one he implemented at Ajax. There, Donny van de Beek (attacking midfielder), Tadic (attacking midfielder), Schone (attacking midfielder/winger), Ziyech (attacking midfielder/forward), de Jong (transitional midfielder/ no.8) all rotated in a midfield 3 in ten-Hag’s 4-3-3 system. Not a CDM in sight.
Why is it that with a decent defense he cant to do the same at United?…
Hence our focus on de Jong in the transfer market rather than a player like Declan Rice. Hence our signing of Lisandro Martinez despite having five overpaid central defenders already on the books. And hence McTominay and Fred playing so far up the pitch in preseason (both were amongst the preseason goals) despite being played as tandem ‘holding’ midfielders for the last few seasons.
My point to this mind-numbing tactical tangent is that there is no reason to believe that ten-Hag won’t play a midfield three where Bruno, Eriksen and Donny all rotate the two more advanced midfield positions while Fred, McTominay and potentially de Jong or similar new player, rotates the no.6 position.
Eriksen is a Cause for Hopeful Optimism
As usual, this is all a bit speculative, but it does seem to be the direction our new manager is trying to take this team.
Maybe I am being overly optimistic believing that Eriksen will play 40+ games this season. But ten-Hag’s high-octane style of football requires players rotate constantly both within and between games.
This means that most of our first team squad should get regular minutes. While coaching for Ajax, an average of 20 players saw 25 games or more a season under ten-Hag. And, an average of 15 players a season saw 40 games or more.
Everything suggests that Eriksen will be given a fair crack at the whip, and provided he impresses as I believe he will, he should play a massive roll this coming season.
Eriksen is a Leader
Why? You might ask am I harping yet again?
Because, at the moment, whether ten-Hag is willing to admit it publicly, there is a captain crisis a Manchester United. And Erikson has the potential to fill that gap.
Ten-Hag may have opted to allow Harry Maguire to retain the armband for now. But the prevailing opinion is that he chose to keep Maguire as captain, simply because the club are experiencing too much transition too quickly at the moment.
United is Bubbling Cauldron
We have lost seven first team players so far this summer, with more rumored to leave. Woodward, and Judge have moved on. Ole was replaced by Rangnick who has been replaced with ten-Hag. Most of our scouting department has been sacked. And we have a whole new training set up, coaching staff and playing style.
All of this upheaval combined with Harry Maguire forgetting how to play football has created a vacuum surrounding the captaincy . No one is fooled by Maguire keeping the armband. While it might have been predictable it’s also a necessary evil because of all of this overturn.
United Need a New Captain
However, this tiptoeing around the Maguire excuse only takes for so long. Sooner than later, Maguire is either going to have to drastically change his captaining style and performances or he will need to be stripped of the armband and likely sold.
Since the latter is more likely to happen, Eriksen could be a good option to fill that hole. He certainly has the CV for it as he has captained Ajax, Tottenham, Inter Milan and Denmark.
He also has more combined international experience and experience in the Premier League that any other player currently at Manchester United other than David De Gea. If you consider his ability, experience and potential sperate from his medical history he stands out as a obvious source for not just talent but leadership as well.
And if you knew nothing at all of Eriksen it would be enough to understand his strength of character in order to return to professional football after a cardiac arrest.
Who Knows What Will Happen?
I don’t imagine Maguire will be relieved of the captaincy this season, which may be for the better. If Bruno is to be a potential candidate for captaincy, then he needs to prove that he can remain levelheaded on the field. If De Gea is to stake a claim, then he needs to prove he can adapt to a ten-Hag system. And if Eriksen is to be a serious candidate he needs a season to bed in at United.
No matter what, we need another season to see where these chips fall. But I’d imagine when the inevitable happens, Eriksen name will be right at the top of the candidacy list.
Choosing a captain is a delicate process, as I have previously discussed on this blog. The responsible thing to do is to not rock the boat. Even more responsible is not killing Maguires confidence by keeping him as captain, for now…
Exciting Time Ahead
For those who don’t fully understand the medical aspect, I say find solace in this. Eriksen would not have returned to Premier League football with Brentford or passed a multiday physical to facilitate his transfer to United if the prevailing medical opinion was that he was a medical liability.
The research is clear. Eriksen’s potential as a player and leader are clear. I also believe he has the potential to be the best signing of this summer window. Maybe even the most important signing for United in recent history, save Bruno.
The proof is already there, and not just because of his performances with Brentford. Or the free kick he scored in front of a petulant Cristiano Ronaldo during training the other day. He has also returned to full international duty ahead of this winters World Cup. While Eriksen has also be regularly been handed the armband for Denmark as well.
Help Us Christian Eriksen, You’re Our Only Hope
Maybe I am being overly optimistic with Eriksen. Like I was when we gave Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the managers seat at United. Only time will tell. But, regardless of my ability to read the tea leaves, it behooves all United fans to believe that in Eriksen we have a player with a lot of possibilities.
Perhaps there is also some optimism to come from his cardiac arrest. Not to take it lightly but he might still be playing for Inter Milan had it not happened. So, as crass as it may sound to label a serious medical moment as fateful, I believe everything happens for a reason.
United have lost so many midfield bodies this summer. We should count ourselves as lucky to have landed a player of Eriksen’s caliber. And on a free transfer to boot. I expect big things from him. I for one, can’t wait to see him pull on the red of United and stride out onto the pitch at Old Trafford to a roaring welcome this weekend.
Welcome Christian Eriksen to Manchester United.
Glory, Glory Man United.