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Christian Eriksen’s Spurs return is perfect after Conte hotel chat but it may cause one problem

There’s a certain irony to the fact that the best way for Tottenham to finally replace Christian Eriksen this summer might be by signing Christian Eriksen.

When the Dane left Tottenham in January 2020, it was long past the time for the parties to go their separate ways. The midfielder had already made public his desire to leave for a new challenge the previous summer following the club’s Champions League final defeat to Liverpool.

Yet it took another six months with Eriksen in and out of the team under first Mauricio Pochettino and then Jose Mourinho before he got his move, with his performances having dipped and some fans having turned against him.

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“In the end I played about 30 games that were like goodbye games. It was like ‘this might be his last game’, ‘this might be his last game’. It kept rolling,” he told the BBC soon after leaving. “In my head I was ready to try something new but felt if nothing came, I was still ready to play for my place. I was not a different player in that sense, but I was in and out of the team. However, even if I had a four-year contract, this season would have been difficult after the Champions League final.”

He added: “If you have a short contract, you will be the black sheep. Of course, I did the interview. I was very honest. I felt I had to be honest. I didn’t want to hide like a lot of players do. Everyone is different. I was honest. I wanted to say it out loud.

“I did get the blame for a lot of stuff, for being the bad guy. I read I was the bad person in the changing room, that ever since I said I wanted to leave, it was no good me being there. To be honest, over the last few years, if anything came up, any player would think about leaving but I was the guy who said it publicly.

“When the window is not open, there can only be talk. There cannot be anything concrete. I think Mourinho did well. He could have said ‘he wants to leave, so he is not going to play any more’. He didn’t do that. After I told him where my feelings were and what I would like to do, he told me just to be happy and if I was needed I would play. I was needed in a few games where I did make a difference. It was more as an extra rather than in the starting XI of course.”

It would end up being Antonio Conte who would help end Eriksen’s time at Tottenham. The Italian believed the Denmark international could raise the quality of his Inter Milan squad and that the midfielder had the character he needed.

Eriksen took his time to settle into the Inter squad and was in and out of the team in the second half of the 2019/20 season and the first half of the next campaign, with speculation that he might leave the club within his first year.

However, something clicked when the January window closed and Eriksen began to start almost every match for Inter from that point in the middle of a midfield three. Inter climbed to the summit of Serie A and he and Conte finished the season as champions.

Conte would leave Inter at the end of the campaign and the following month Eriksen suffered that fateful cardiac arrest during the Euros, saved by the quick actions of those within the stadium that day.

The Dane battled back and was fitted with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), which resets the heart after a cardiac arrest. He cannot play with that device in Italy and Inter subsequently agreed to release him from his contract so Eriksen carefully planned out his next move while getting himself back into shape and the green light from the medical professionals.

Eventually it was Brentford, with his compatriot Thomas Frank at the helm, that brought him back to the Premier League, with the midfielder undergoing a full medical assessment before putting pen to paper on a deal in January until the end of the season.

Within a week Conte, by now Spurs’ head coach, was asked about Eriksen’s return to football and England and while he admitted the Dane was not an option in January he did not rule out a move in the summer for the midfielder, who he had met by chance just days before in a London hotel.

“No. Honestly no [we didn’t discuss signing him]. Honestly I was surprised about the situation because in my mind, honestly, I thought Christian needed more time before coming back to play in England,” he said. “For sure, Eriksen is part of Tottenham’s story. To come back here would be a good opportunity for him, for me, for the club, but now he’s signed for Brentford, only six months, and we’ll see what happens.

“I was lucky because I met him on Sunday and it was good to speak with him. I saw him with his family and it was good. I’m the first person to be happy to see him again on the pitch because we spent a really good time at Inter Milan together. We won the league, we spent two important seasons together. I wish him all the best for the future and you don’t know what will happen. It would be good for me to have him again, to work together.”

Conte is currently living in a suite within a hotel, as his wife and daughter are still in Italy with the latter still in school there. It was in that hotel where he met Eriksen.

“It happened that I met him in the same hotel that we were both staying in,” he said. “We were lucky to meet each other, we didn’t prepare the meeting. It was only a coincidence to see with him his family, but I repeat, it was great for me to see him with his family.”

That meeting took place before Eriksen was sharp enough to play Premier League football again. It took him a month of training with Frank’s men before he was ready and following a substitute appearance against Newcastle, he then started to take his place in the starting line-up.

It’s no coincidence that Eriksen has now started five matches and Brentford have won every single one of them, including the eye-catching 4-1 demolition of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in which he scored his first goal since returning to the Premier League. He has also provided two assists in those five matches and scored in both of his international appearances last month after returning to the Denmark side.

The only game that Brentford have lost in recent weeks was a 2-1 defeat at Leicester that the Dane missed after testing positive for Covid.

Eriksen has quickly become an integral part of Brentford’s surge up the table, mostly in a midfield three, and this Saturday he will come up against his old employers, who need a victory at his expense to maintain their top four battle.

The 30-year-old’s progress has caught the eye of Tottenham and the chance to sign a free agent who knows Conte’s methods and the north London club inside out has been discussed.

Eriksen is also vastly different from the player that left Spurs two years ago, not least because of that life-changing moment at the Euros but also because he had experienced the different challenge he required in Italy and won a league title under Conte.

The Dane will have plenty of offers on the table this summer, not least from Brentford who he could well feel a degree of loyalty to for taking the chance on him in January.

football.london understands that while Eriksen did not part Spurs on the best terms with its hierarchy, he loved the club and is believed to want to remain in London.

The key for the player is that he knows Conte’s methods and expectations inside out and he will know whether he can take the Italian’s brutal training sessions at this point in his career and after the events of last summer.

If Tottenham were to bring Eriksen back, he would finally provide the answer to the question ‘How do Spurs fill the hole left by Christian Eriksen?’. It would be himself. He was directly involved in 159 goals in 305 matches for Tottenham, delivering on average almost every other game from midfield as he netted 69 goals and laid on 90 assists.

Tottenham have failed to replace those assists, with the two most expensive signings in the club’s history in Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso unable to fill that void. Harry Kane has instead dropped into deeper positions to make up the creative shortfall.

The irony is that if Eriksen were to return then one creative player who does look capable of stepping up could find his game time reduced – Dejan Kulusevski.

Conte could switch to a 3-5-2 formation if Eriksen were to arrive, utilising him as part of a midfield trio as he did at Inter Milan. That could see newcomer Kulusevski, who has been a revelation on the right, out of the team although the versatile can also play up front or as a wing-back.

Spurs need competition though and more tactical options for the manager as right now they have too many similar central midfielders for a central trio. When Conte looks at his bench right now, the creative options in both midfield and attack are limited. Ndombele, Lo Celso and Dele Alli were not providing that and were shifted out the door.

Lucas Moura has just 15 Premier League assists to his name from 132 matches over four years, while Steven Bergwijn has six assists from his 56 matches in the competition.

Conte needs more from the team and his bench when Tottenham are struggling to break opponents down and the addition of a hungry Eriksen gives him more tactical flexibility and competition, as well as a set piece taker.

There will be no room for sentiment on Saturday as Eriksen and Spurs renew acquaintances but more than a few people will be watching the Dane very closely with the summer in mind.