On a number of levels, Christian Eriksen is a signing that makes a lot of sense for Manchester United.
Summer departures mean United must restock their midfield, Eriksen’s schooling in the ways of Ajax means he’ll understand what Erik ten Hag wants to do, he would not only reduce the creative burden on Bruno Fernandes but offer a point of difference and, most pleasingly for the club’s hierarchy, he is available on a free.
But bringing in the 30-year-old Denmark star must be just one part of the Ten Hag rebuild at Old Trafford and by no means the most urgent.
Christian Eriksen plays for Brentford at Old Trafford last season – but will he join Man United?
The Danish star, 30, has resurrected his career after suffering a cardiac arrest at Euro 2020
Eriksen is a top quality player but he is not the assured defensive midfielder United have desperately needed for about four years now. Nor is he a right-back, or a striker, the other areas of concern in the United team.
He would represent a smart piece of business, costing only his wages, but is just one piece of the jigsaw puzzle.
Eriksen remained coy about his next destination when asked about his future on international duty this week.
He’ll head off on holiday following a positive season he probably didn’t expect to have and consider all his options, keeping his phone close at hand for calls from his agent.
United are but one possibility. His former club Tottenham, who could offer Champions League football right away, are linked, as well as Everton.
Continuing at Brentford, where he relaunched his career so successfully in the second half of last season, is another possibility.
Signing Eriksen on a free would make sense for United as Erik ten Hag rebuilds the ailing club
Playmaker Eriksen is a fine 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, who could cost them upwards of £65million, doesn’t affect things. They have different skillsets, after all.
In truth, United will need more than one midfielder through the door ahead of a campaign that begins at home to Brighton on August 7.
Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata have all left the club in Eriksen’s position alone, leaving just Fernandes and Donny van de Beek, returning from his loan at Everton, to unpick opposition defences.
Top level managers already fret about burn-out but the coming season, with its winter World Cup and congested schedules either side, will be something unprecedented.
So adding Eriksen will enable Ten Hag to rotate in the central and attacking midfield positions, meaning Fernandes wouldn’t have to play every game as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick tended to do with him.
Eriksen and Fernandes share many traits but also are different enough to offer a contrast depending on the opposition and the circumstances.
Eriksen is sufficiently different to Bruno Fernandes to offer a point of difference for United
But if Eriksen did arrive, it could be bad news for Van de Beek even with Ten Hag in charge
Fernandes is very capable of pulling off defence-splitting passes that only have a 20-30 per cent chance of completion from his playmaker role.
Eriksen is more considered and methodical, placing a greater value on not giving the ball away. He’s also a hard runner and would happily help press opposition defenders as Ten Hag will demand.
But we all know that Eriksen is more than capable of those magical moments, whether a brilliant pass or long-range goal.
Given United scored only 57 league goals last season, struggling to crack even average defences, they are in need of greater and more varied creativity.
The contrast between Fernandes and Eriksen also means they could play alongside one another if Ten Hag opted for his ‘double 8’ formation seen on occasion at Ajax.
And let’s not forget that Ten Hag saw up close what Eriksen can do as he trained with Ajax at the beginning of the year, building up his fitness after his cardiac arrest at Euro 2020 before joining 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
But Eriksen would offer flexibility. He could work on either the left or the right side of a 4-2-3-1 system, supporting Cristiano Ronaldo as the focal point of the attack.
More likely, though, given Ten Hag’s love of flying wingers in the Jadon Sancho mould, he’d either be rotating in the No 10 role with Fernandes or playing deeper in midfield alongside De Jong, Fred or Scott McTominay.
That would seem something of a waste to have Eriksen sitting so deep, so maybe a 4-3-3 with him and Fernandes as the ‘double 8’ with a holding player in behind would work best.
Whether United could achieve the necessary balance by doing this, given the defensive susceptibility they showed last season, is another matter. There would be an awful lot of strain on that sitting midfielder.
Perhaps Ten Hag would believe United could simply exert more attacking pressure and try to outscore opponents. It certainly wouldn’t be dull.
Regardless, there will be enough matches next season for everyone to get a fair crack. Eriksen could be an impact sub in Premier League games, for example, but start in the UEFA Europa League and domestic cups.
United urgently need a change of direction after a miserable season saw them finish only sixth
Cristiano Ronaldo would welcome more service and Eriksen is able to unpick tight defences
He will be off to the World Cup in November – Denmark have drawn France, Tunisia and Australia in Group D – just like Fernandes will be with Portugal. Player management will be crucial next season.
By the time everyone heads off to Qatar, United will have completed all six group games in Europe and the subsequent Sunday games in the Premier League. Injury and fatigue mean everyone will get their chance.
Even Van de Beek, you’d 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 may well be tempered if United signing Eriksen but with a clean slate for everyone under the new regime, Van de Beek would feel Ten Hag knows what he can deliver and will see more of the pitch than under Solskjaer.
Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Solskjaer all attempted to bring Eriksen to United in the past. With the player now past 30, there is a perception Eriksen is just another ‘beyond peak’ player being signed up to what will probably be a lucrative three-year contract.
Frenkie de Jong, a deeper-lying midfielder, remains a summer transfer target for Man United
Eriksen celebrates scoring for Tottenham at Old Trafford back in 2014 as they beat United 2-1
If there really is going to be a culture shift at the club, they should surely be targeting younger players who promise much greater value in the long term.
But the flip side of that is Eriksen is available for nothing – meaning the transfer fee wastage of recent years isn’t a factor – and would bring an 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 to keep his youthful dressing room grounded.
Eriksen could be part of a group of wiser heads at United along with Ronaldo, David de Gea and Harry Maguire helping ensure discipline as the new manager makes his imprint.
So the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to signing him. Whether the Dane would actually wish to join United, given the embarrassments of recent times, is another matter entirely.