The Danes have gotten used to the pictures that are now going around the world. Christian Eriksen jogging across the training ground in al-Rayyan, laughing. How he passes, scores goals. His most recent one came straddling for Manchester United against Fulham just a few days ago.
To see Eriksen play football again? Flemming Povlsen, European Champion with Denmark 1992 and TV expert says: “It has become everyday life again.” A year and a half ago it was almost unthinkable. On June 12, 2021, when Eriksen was lying on the lawn of the stadium in Copenhagen with a cardiac arrest in the European Championship group game against Finland and emergency doctors revived him.
In Denmark, just like in Germany, football-related topics do not dominate reporting on the World Cup. More than many other associations, the Danish has at least tried to take a cautious position. In any case, Fifa not only banned the team from wearing the “One Love” captain’s armband, but also a training shirt with the inscription “Human rights for all” beforehand.
“I’m grateful to be here.”
Everything else seemed to take a back seat. Until last weekend Denmark’s best-known footballer took a seat on the press podium in the training quarters and more than 20 international media appeared, such as the newspaper Berlingske with a touch of astonishment, noted that even reporters from Spain and Japan had been there.
Eriksen, 30, then spoke about the special role that tournament has in his biography. He now has a new motto, as he had previously told Dutch television: “I’m grateful to be here. It’s very special. Everything else is extra.”
The story of his return to the football field initially began with a setback. Because Eriksen was fitted with a pacemaker, he was no longer allowed to play in Italy. Inter Milan canceled the contract that would have lasted until 2024. Eriksen trained at home with his youth club Odense BK in December. More than half a year after his collapse, FC Brentford, who had been promoted at the time, signed him. In February he played again.
What has happened since is an amazing comeback story. “He’s playing down his class again, is calm on the ball, dangerous in goals and pulls people along. You can’t tell from his looks that a year and a half ago there was a question as to whether he would be able to continue playing football at all,” says Povlsen. Coach Kasper Hjulmand said in the press conference ahead of Denmark’s opener against Tunisia this Tuesday: “He’s our heart, our heartbeat. He’s a fantastic player and an even better person. He gives us so much.” Teammate Jonas Wind from VfL Wolfsburg said German press agency: “I personally believe: Christian was never a better player than he is right now.”
Eriksen is now a regular in central midfield at Manchester United
In March, a month after making his debut for Brentford, Eriksen returned to Denmark – scoring a shot in the top corner after two minutes. In the summer he went to Manchester, to coach Erik ten Hag. At United he is a regular in central midfield and plays clever passes with care. In the national team he is now at least as important as he was before.
This is remarkable because the success at the European Championships was achieved without him. The team made it to the semi-finals, driven by the Danes’ euphoria and an outstanding team spirit, which was also created by the special circumstances. Mikkel Damsgaard, then just 21 years old, excelled in Eriksen’s position.
“A lot has remained” of this success, says Povlsen, for example “the belief that we can pull off a surprise like this again”. The squad is very similar to that of the European Championship, and the style of football hasn’t changed either: offensive, with attacking full-backs, either in 4-2-3-1 or 3-4-3. There were other victories too: Denmark beat France, world champions and second-team opponents, twice in the Nations League.
There are also “problem areas,” says Povlsen. Some players are out of shape. Central defender Andreas Christensen has played just five league games for FC Barcelona, while striker Kasper Dolberg has just four for Sevilla FC. Damsgaard, the EURO revelation, made just one start for Brentford FC in the Premier League.
The hope, says Povlsen: that the professionals, as is often the case in Denmark, forget their personal sporting problems in the national team. “Being together gives you strength.” And then of course it depends on those who are in shape. Pierre Emile Höjbjerg from Tottenham Hotspur, for example, Jesper Lindstrom from Eintracht Frankfurt – and Eriksen.
He has played 117 international matches, it is his fifth tournament, possibly one of his last and yet his first with a new attitude. He says: “I now fully appreciate the simple fact of being alive and being with my family.”