Despite the loss last week to Brighton, it is unanimously agreed upon that Tottenham Hotspur is in its best position really since the middle of Mauricio Pochettino’s reign. With Spurs currently in the fourth spot, Antonio Conte is doing wonders with a squad that still employs a lot of the players many supporters were calling for their dismissals of years back. Towards the end of the Pochettino tenure, the tenor surrounding the club was that Spurs were reaching a crossroads where a “painful rebuild” was going to be needed to equal the ambition showed via the construction of the new stadium.
Now with an elite manager in Conte, an experienced Managing Director of Football in Fabio Paratici and a somewhat-chastened chairman Daniel Levy who backed away to focus on the business side of the club, Spurs have started to reap the benefits of an improved structure. Currently, Spurs finds itself with a realistic chance of finishing in Top 4, which is a feeling felt light years away during the Mourinho and Nuno tenures.
And while the feeling is positive, the reality is that a manager like Conte is not known for sticking around. So when you have an elite manager like Conte in place, the expectation from him is that club to matches his ambition. He has already indicated that his desire is not just finishing in the Top 4, but also to win the league. Conte has never stayed more than four years at any club so regardless of what happens in the remainder of this current season, all eyes will be on the club’s plans over the summer. And if Spurs really want to set up the team to win immediately, they should strongly consider bringing back Christian Eriksen.
As it stands, Spurs will clearly be in the market for some new wingbacks and central defenders. There is certainly positivity around who Spurs will target after Spurs’ recent acquisitions. With Cristian Romero, Rodrigo Bentancur, and Dejan Kulusevski, Paratici has provided Conte with three reliable and versatile pieces on both sides of the pitch. And while the futures of other recent incomings like Emerson Royal and Bryan Gil are up in the air, Paratici’s rolodex has provided for more booms than busts so far. When you compare it to some of Steve Hitchen’s and Levy’s incomings in years past (Jack Clarke, Tanguy Ndombele, Giovani Lo Celso to name a few), it looks even better.
Under Conte this season, Spurs have primarily utilized a 3-4-3 shape with established patterns of play. More recently, Conte has commented that he is starting to feel that this team is his team, indicating that the squad fully understands the patterns and movements of play needed to break different shapes down and win matches. But as seen on Saturday in the mid-day loss to Brighton, Spurs do struggle when plan A does not work.
That’s where Christian Eriksen comes in. Eriksen’s qualities are already known to Spurs fans — he is a player who can pick locks, break defenses with his passing, and fill a creative void. Spurs have really struggled with creativity since the Dane departed in the January 2020 transfer window. Who better to be the “Eriksen replacement” than the man himself?
Before I wax poetically about Eriksen and what he can bring to Conte’s Spurs, it is important to note that it really is not the club’s ethos to bring in a 30-year-old. Even before the Paul Mitchell era where the club’s focus was to bring in younger players looking to take the next steps in their careers, it could be said that Spurs have always been somewhat of a stepping-stone club.
Spurs have done well identifying talent and then making a significant return of investment on them once they moved on — players like Dimitar Berbatov, Gareth Bale and Luka Modric are but three examples. And while this somewhat changed when the club entered a “win-now” window with Mourinho, the truth is that there is a “win-now” opportunity with Conte that actually feels achievable. Under Mourinho, the football was too dull and the feeling of toxicity at the club was palpable. With Conte, Spurs are far better drilled and have shown quickly that they can beat some of the better sides in England.
A long-term plan under Conte does not seem likely, so the club should instead look to immediately fill gaps where needed to take Conte’s philosophy and tactics to the next level. A player like Eriksen makes all the sense in the world. Obviously, Christian is already familiar with many of the players in the squad, and he knows what it takes to play at a high level in the Premier League. But more recently, Eriksen has become more of a complete player and one that has experience in a title-winning side after winning the Scudetto just last season with Conte.
Under Pochettino, Eriksen was truly the midfield maestro — the tempo player that made everything tick. With ball-winning midfielders behind him, Pochettino deployed Eriksen in a central attacking position and allowed him to thread things together, pick out passes in either direction, put passes into the box and even score from a variety of angles. At Inter, Eriksen did not necessarily hit the ground running, but Conte quickly identified that the Dane was an extremely intelligent player on the ball who could receive the ball well and make things happen.
Within “Conteball”, the creativity does not necessarily come from individual players but rather from the system and the unit as a whole. Conte’s sides are extremely well-drilled in large part due to the Italian’s ability to recognize a player’s individual strengths and then pairing that strength with another player’s best trait to get the most out of his sides. One example Spurs supporters can use is the relationship of Kulusevski and Matt Doherty on the right side of the pitch. The duo paired so well linking up in large part due to Kulusevski’s biggest strength of holding up play and occupying space, which allowed time for Doherty to provide his biggest strength, getting upfield in dangerous positions and arriving at the right time in the box.
Eriksen is just such a technical player that for a master tactical manipulator like Conte, the relationship makes a ton of sense. There are not many weaknesses in his game and because he is so adept at many things, he provides for a perfect plug-and-play option for Conte in any of the Italian’s preferred formations (3-4-3 or 3-5-2). And when things go awry and the plan does not work, he enough individual creativity in his locker to make things tick on the whim.
Another area where Eriksen can immediately improve Spurs is from set-pieces. Since Eriksen left, Spurs have dipped near the bottom of the league in creating goal opportunities from set pieces. Heung-min Son’s corners are extremely inconsistent, but the bigger worry in set pieces is their chance creation from free kicks. Since Eriksen left, Harry Kane has been the main option and has struggled mightily. Eric Dier has recently become more involved in this area, but while we still joke about Eriksen not clearing the first man on corners, there is no denying that a player like Eriksen can improve Conte’s options as a whole in this department.
After the life-threatening cardiac arrest in the EUROs, no one knew what his footballing future would be. Since returning to playing with more consistency, he has improved Brentford (Spurs’ Saturday opponent) immensely, helping the Bees win five out of their last six matches.
Eriksen will not only be free in the summer, but he has experience in playing different roles and set-ups under Conte, knows what it takes to play in the Premier League and has the qualities that Spurs are needing to take Conte’s side to the next level. I am typically not one for bringing in older players, but this move makes way too much sense for Spurs and it will come as no surprise when the rumors on this will inevitably start to swirl.