Last month a rare, almost miraculous event came to pass. Brentford did the double over West Ham for the first time in 68 years. Such frequency rivals Hailey’s Comet as the Bees revelled in another London derby victory. How dare they play so brightly and leave us clinging to the Europa League for comfort?
The win was orchestrated by Christian Eriksen who sat at the fulcrum of Brentford’s play. But turn a different corner and he might have been playing for the Hammers instead. David Moyes had the chance to sign Eriksen before Brentford took the plunge. Whilst he never doubted the Dane’s ability there was an obvious question mark over his fitness.
Eriksen has an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD), which sends electrical pulses to regulate abnormal heart rhythms. The device was fitted following a cardiac arrest in Denmark’s Euro 2020 match against Finland. However, Internazionale released him last December as rules in Italy do not allow players fitted with ICD devices.
So was this a missed opportunity for West Ham to sign a world class footballer who is still only 30 years old?
Moyes’ reluctance was understandable; Eriksen had not played since that fateful Euro 2020 game and only recently trained with Ajax reserves. Moyes reasoned that Brentford had greater insight via manager Thomas Frank. He was national coach as Eriksen progressed through the Denmark youth sides. The Bees were tight lipped about their own due diligence but Frank’s input would have been vital.
However, they remained cautious and watchful; Eriksen signed in January but didn’t make his debut until the end of February against Newcastle. Whilst there is a strong ‘gift horse’ argument, the practical implications cannot be overlooked. The insurance cover for a player with Eriksen’s condition is likely to be complex and costly.
However, there is a precedent as Dutch international Daley Blind was fitted with an ICD in 2019. This followed a diagnosis of myocarditis but has since played regularly for Ajax and the Netherlands.
One goal and one assist doesn’t tell the whole story as the Bees have won the four games that Eriksen has started. He has also returned to international football, appearing as substitute and scoring in Denmark’s 4-2 defeat against the Netherlands. A total of 398 minutes on the pitch is a fair return for a player who ‘died’ for 5 minutes less than a year ago.
Some fans will be convinced that David Moyes ‘made a ricket’ in failing to sign Christian Eriksen. With hindsight lurking in the background, it’s a question that will never be properly answered, but let’s just assume the signing went ahead.
Would I have been pleased, yes of course who wouldn’t want a world class player like him available for selection? But how would he have fitted into West Ham’s style of play, and who would have made way for him? Eriksen is the classic number 10, sitting behind the strikers in a fluid playmaking role. A two-footed footballer, he can also play wide or in a more fixed central midfield role.
On paper he would have been a perfect fit for us. He is a potential match winner, someone who could turn a match with an individual piece of brilliance. There are other creative midfielders at the club but none that are in Eriksen’s class. Depending on Moyes’ tactical preference there would have been a straight swap with either Said Benrahma, Pablo Fornals or Manuel Lanzini. He can score goals and is excellent at set pieces. However, Eriksen’s greatest skill is to dictate play and assist the strikers.
The most productive spell of Eriksen’s career was at Spurs where he linked up with Harry Kane and Son Heung-min. Both are highly mobile and perceptive strikers with a predatory instinct. West Ham have no one remotely close to Kane or Son, so Eriksen’s impact might have been limited without anyone to feed – and I love Michail Antonio as much as everyone else but he just doesn’t fit the bill.
Eriksen is not a magician and needs to play behind proven strikers, especially at a club ‘going large’. This could be the reason why Brentford proved to be a more attractive prospect. For Eriksen the biggest downside to signing for West Ham would be the sky high expectation. Notwithstanding his health and overall fitness, he would need to perform. We are deep into a European campaign.
At Brentford there is absolutely no pressure on Eriksen. The Bees’ only objective is to preserve their Premier League status. If they stay up, he’ll be a legend; if they get relegated he’ll be a legend just for trying. But he’s a legend for a much more important reason.
He came back from the brink of death and returned to top class football; a monumental, life affirming achievement — even if it is in a Brentford shirt?