On many levels, Christian Eriksen is a signing that makes a lot of sense for Manchester United.
Summer departures mean United need to restock their midfield, Eriksen’s schooling in the Ajax ways means he will understand what Erik ten Hag wants to do, it would not only reduce Bruno’s creative burden Fernandes, but would offer a point of difference and, most pleasingly for the club hierarchy, he is available for free.
But bringing in the 30-year-old Danish star must be only part of Ten Hag’s rebuild at Old Trafford and by no means the most urgent.
Christian Eriksen played for Brentford at Old Trafford last season – but will he join Man United?
The Danish star, 30, has resurrected his career after suffering cardiac arrest at Euro 2020
Eriksen is a high-quality player, but he’s not the confident defensive midfielder United have desperately needed for around four years now. He’s also not a right-back or a striker, the United team’s other concerns.
He would represent a smart business, costing only his salary, but is only one piece of the puzzle.
Eriksen remained coy about his next destination when asked about his future in international duty this week.
He’ll go on vacation after a positive season he probably didn’t expect to have and will consider all his options, keeping his phone handy for calls from his agent.
United are just one possibility. His former club Tottenham, who could immediately offer Champions League football, are linked, as well as Everton.
Continuing at Brentford, where he so successfully relaunched his career in the second half of last season, is another possibility.
Signing Eriksen for free would make sense for United as Erik ten Hag rebuilds the struggling club
Playmaker Eriksen is a great creator and also has a penchant for the spectacular with his goals
But, as Sportsmail reported on Wednesday, United are interested in the Dane and their parallel pursuit of Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong, which could cost them upwards of £65million, is not affecting matters. They have different skills, after all.
In truth, United will need more than one midfielder ahead of a campaign which kicks off at home to Brighton on August 7.
Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata all left the club in Eriksen’s only position, leaving only Fernandes and Donny van de Beek, back from his loan spell at Everton, to unseat the opposing defences.
Top managers are already worried about burnout, but the coming season, with its winter World Cup and busy schedules on either side, will be unprecedented.
So the addition of Eriksen will allow Ten Hag to rotate in the central and attacking midfield positions, meaning Fernandes wouldn’t have to play every game like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick tended to. do with him.
Eriksen and Fernandes share many traits but are also different enough to provide contrast depending on the opposition and the circumstances.
Eriksen is different enough from Bruno Fernandes to offer United a point of difference
But if Eriksen arrives, it could be bad news for Van de Beek, even with Ten Hag in charge
Fernandes is very capable of passing defensive passes which only have a 20-30% chance of being completed thanks to his role as a playmaker.
Eriksen is more thoughtful and methodical, placing a higher value on not giving away the ball. He is also a hard runner and would gladly help pressure opposition defenders as Ten Hag will demand.
But we all know Eriksen is more than capable of those magical moments, whether it’s a brilliant pass or a long-range goal.
With United scoring just 57 league goals last season, struggling to break down even average defences, they need greater and more varied creativity.
The contrast between Fernandes and Eriksen also means they could play side by side should Ten Hag opt for his ‘double 8’ formation seen on occasion at Ajax.
And let’s not forget that Ten Hag saw firsthand what Eriksen can do while training with Ajax earlier this year, building up his fitness after suffering cardiac arrest at Euro 2020 before to join Brentford.
Thomas Frank pulled off a masterstroke by persuading his compatriot to sign for Brentford
Eriksen was a hugely popular figure in West London and Brentford are trying to keep him around
But Eriksen would offer flexibility. He could work on the left or right of a 4-2-3-1 system, supporting Cristiano Ronaldo as the central point of attack.
More likely, however, given Ten Hag’s love of flying wingers in the mold of Jadon Sancho, he would rotate into the No.10 role with Fernandes or play deeper in midfield alongside De Jong, Fred or Scott McTominay.
It would seem a bit of a waste to have Eriksen sitting so deep, so maybe a 4-3-3 with him and Fernandes as a ‘double 8’ with a player holding behind would work better.
Whether United could strike the necessary balance by doing this, given the defensive sensitivity they showed last season, is another matter. There would be a lot of pressure on this sitting midfielder.
Maybe Ten Hag would believe that United could just apply more attacking pressure and try to beat their opponents. It certainly wouldn’t be boring.
Either way, there will be enough games next season for everyone to have a fair chance. Eriksen could be an impact sub in Premier League games, for example, but start in the UEFA Europa League and domestic cups.
United are in dire need of a managerial change after a miserable season that saw them only finish sixth
Cristiano Ronaldo would appreciate more service and Eriksen is capable of unleashing tight defenses
He will feature in the World Cup in November – Denmark have drawn against France, Tunisia and Australia in Group D – just as Fernandes will with Portugal. Player management will be crucial next season.
By the time everyone travels to Qatar, United will have completed all six group games in Europe and the following Sunday games in the Premier League. Injuries and fatigue mean everyone will get a chance.
Even Van de Beek, you imagine. The Dutchman must have had a spring in his step after learning that Ten Hag, a manager he performed so well under at Ajax, was coming to Manchester.
That enthusiasm could well be tempered if United sign Eriksen, but with a clean slate for everyone under the new regime, Van de Beek would feel Ten Hag knows what he can offer and will see more ground than under Solskjaer.
Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Solskjaer have all tried to bring Eriksen to United in the past. With the player now over 30, there is a perception that Eriksen is just another ‘beyond peak’ player signed on what will likely be a lucrative three-year deal.
Deeper midfielder Frenkie de Jong remains a summer transfer target for Man United
Eriksen celebrates Tottenham’s goal at Old Trafford in 2014 as they beat United 2-1
If there is really going to be a culture shift at the club, surely they should target younger players who promise much greater value in the long run.
But the flip side is that Eriksen isn’t available for anything – meaning the wasteful transfer fee of recent years isn’t a factor – and would bring experience Ten Hag will appreciate.
When his Ajax side reasserted their supremacy in Dutch football and reached the Champions League semi-finals in 2018-19, Ten Hag deeply valued Daley Blind and Dusan Tadic for keeping his youth dressing room grounded.
Eriksen could be part of a wiser group of frontrunners at United with Ronaldo, David de Gea and Harry Maguire helping to provide discipline as the new manager makes his mark.
So, the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to signing him. Whether the Dane would actually want to join United, given the embarrassments of late, is another matter altogether.