Christian Eriksen 20 Midfielder Ajax
Christian Eriksen is a player with a big reputation that he's having a little trouble justifying. The raw minerals are all there, but the 20-year-old Dane has been the subject of Maradonian hype levels since breaking through in the Dutch Eredivisie with Amsterdam giants Ajax. He made his debut for the club in 2010 and is fast approaching his 100th league appearance, an indication of his importance to Ajax even as a teenager.
Eriksen has a fan in Johan Cruyff, who is known to love his invention and it's easy to see why. He's an attacking midfielder who continues to have enormous potential simply because he has time on his side and a remarkable command of the ball. He knows how to beat a man at pace, crosses well when playing wide and loves a shot from the edge of the penalty area, but the most outstanding parts of his game are elsewhere.
The young Danish international is blessed with mesmerising footwork, capable of delivering a clever trick or a subtle flick that takes his marker out of the game and keeps the ball moving for his team.
The tricks aren't always effective and there have been demands to wind in the wizardry and concentrate instead on getting the job done. Former Ajax and Denmark player Kenneth Perez has been one of his harshest critics, suggesting that Eriksen's performances last season - a year in which Ajax won their second consecutive title, mind you - were those of a player too preoccupied with creating moments for YouTube. He should, suggested Perez, be more businesslike.
Opta statistics suggest he's doing his bit on that front. His pass accuracy in 2012 up until November 1st was 87% and remained high at 75% in the final third - in other words, where it counts. Ten assists and a shooting accuracy of 45% point to a player starting to make a very real contribution for his club, showboating or not.
His skill certainly puts him in the spotlight and inevitably draws silly comparisons, most recently with one Lionel Messi. In October, Eriksen quite rightly shot down any link between the two by stating that they're not even the same type of player.
In fact, he doesn't particularly enjoy being compared to anyone - Eriksen, even at 20, is his own man and controls his own destiny. He's been the focus of consistent speculation throughout his young career, with the biggest clubs in Europe routinely mentioned in the same sentence as his name. He was recently linked with Liverpool, a reported interest by which he was flattered, but he's turned down plenty of opportunities already. In some ways a wise head on young shoulders, Eriksen knows that Ajax and Holland are the best places for him at this stage of his development.
The player himself claims that he is ready to be a leader for Ajax, and that he has matured. At 20, he doesn't shy away from the big occasion. Although he doesn't always exert the influence he'd like, October was a hallmark month for him thanks to the final goal in Ajax's 3-1 victory over English champions Manchester City in the Champions League and the first goal against Feyenoord the following weekend. He also scored the only goal in the 1-0 win over Twente back in September.
He's an established and important part of the set-up in Amsterdam, and he wants more responsibility. One could argue that the responsibility is his to take, because a player of his ability is undoubtedly capable of stepping it up a level. Despite a meteoric rise through the Danish ranks (from Under-17 debut in 2007 to 30 senior caps by October 2012) he has disappointed in patches for Denmark, but his importance to Ajax is highlighted by a very respectable goalscoring record and his continued inclusion as a vital player in a team that wins titles and plays in Europe's flagship continental competition.
Eriksen is a talented player with potential to fulfil, but he's not a baby-faced 18-year-old any more and he is going to need to improve not just his own play but his impact on the teams he plays for. The ability is all there, but his application and influence often fall short of expectations. Given the name he's already carved out for himself, he has a lot to live up to.
“Constantly linked with moves away, but seems happy to put them off for now. Reached the level of 'big fish in small pond' at Ajax and, after a disappointing Euros, needs to be much more than that." - John Dobson (European Football Correspondent)
C- Time to establish substance over style
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