Christian Eriksen is going to need a little bit more time. That he has time at all is perhaps a gift unto itself, so you’ll have to forgive his new club for not rushing a storybook comeback.
Brentford faces Manchester City on Wednesday in its first Premier League match since Eriksen signed with the Bees as a free agent on transfer deadline day, though the Danish star won’t be active just yet. After he spent time training at former clubs of his following his mutual parting of ways with Inter Milan, the ink drying on his contract officially marked the next step in his sensational return following his near-death experience at Euro 2020. His collapse due to cardiac arrest in Denmark’s opening match against Finland is a memory etched in the minds of all who saw it, even more so for all who experienced it up close. The first time he takes to the field in a Brentford kit should inspire a different kind of lasting image, one that is eight months in the making.
“It’s potentially the greatest signing ever for the club,” Brentford manager Thomas Frank said upon the completion of his deal. “It is going to be an unbelievable day, the day Christian steps onto the pitch.
“All of you have seen him performing for years as one of the best midfielders in the Premier League and what happened to him in June was crazy, a shock for all of us. So, to see him out there on the pitch soon is going to be a big day.”
Eriksen has been progressing, but that day remains on the horizon. He trained at Odense Boldklub in Denmark and Ajax before signing his short-term deal, and Brentford is understandably being cautious with a player fitted with an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator. The ICD is the reason why he can’t play in Italy anymore—local health regulations prohibit it—but it’s also the reason why there’s enough of a comfort level in him making his return at all.
”It is very good to see him out there. I spoke to Christian after training and he’s just very pleased and happy to be back part of a team and a club again. Because of the way that he is, he is blending in fantastically with the culture we have here,” Frank said Tuesday. ”[His health is] something we’ll constantly speak with him about. One thing is for sure, he’ll not play against Manchester City. We’ll take it day by day.“
As much excitement as there is about Eriksen’s pending comeback—and as much caution with which it’s being handled—there is sure to be trepidation, at least externally, as well. Perhaps nobody knows what Eriksen went through quite like Fabrice Muamba, who suffered cardiac arrest playing for Bolton in a 2012 FA Cup match and was ”in effect dead“ for 78 minutes before being saved, according to the club doctor. Eriksen, I have retired upon his recovery from him, unable to carry on with a professional career.
”Like everyone else, I am excited for Christian Eriksen that he could be returning to the Premier League. … But I am sure you can understand why I am anxious, too,” Muamba wrote in a piece for The Times last month “I find myself struggling to think I could go to watch Christian play.”
Eriksen has surely done his due diligence before making this step, though, and he’s planning on making a few more, as well. He has already set a goal of playing in the World Cup in November (Denmark was the second team to qualify), and his stint at Brentford and whatever lies ahead beyond the rest of this Premier League season—the club has an option to extend the arrangement for another year—make for a means to an end.
”I had to do a lot of tests to get to where I am today. To get the approval from the doctors to say I could play again without any risks,” Eriksen told Brentford’s official media channel. ”For me, the next four months or five months really [are] to get up to a level and to get to show who I am, that I’m a football player again, I think it was the best option and luckily they agreed to it.“
“They” in this case is Brentford, and it all started with a couple of phone calls with Frank around Christmastime, Eriksen said. If Brentford may have seemed like a random destination on the surface, a closer look indicates why it’s more of a sensitive fit. Frank knows the player well, having managed Eriksen years ago with Denmark’s U-17s. There’s a larger Danish contingent at the club beyond the manager, as well. Eriksen is now club teammates with Mathias Jensen, the player who was subbed on for him against Finland. Two other players on Denmark’s bench that day, Christian Nørgaard and backup goalkeeper Jonas Lössi, are also among the Danish Bees.
”In the end, it was for me the best mix of being able to go somewhere [that] from the outside looks very comfortable, familiar,” Eriksen said.
While a comeback so soon may seem implausible, this is all just part of the plan for Eriksen. Unbeknownst to almost everyone at the time, when his hospital status was top of the mind, Eriksen said he knew two days after his collapse that he would play again, telling his wife, Sabrina, as much.
“On the way to the hospital I told Sabrina I may as well leave my boots here,” Eriksen said. “It changed two days later. It was in the moment. I recognized what happened to me later on that night and the next few days, what was really going on, and then, of course, all the tests started and all the knowledge started to come in and all the questions were being asked. ‘Can I do this? Can I do that?’ and listen to the doctors. Then afterward it slowly took off in a way that if I can do a program with a doctor I’ve been following since it happened that I could slowly get back to playing football.“
Eriksen said he went through a gamut of tests to see how his heart reacted to physical training.
”Luckily nothing came out of that. Everything was good,“ he said.
And so here he stands, on the cusp of a return that seemed, at least to most on the outside, improbable at best. His team of him could use the inspiration. After four straight losses in the league, Brentford has stumbled to 14th, just seven points clear of the relegation zone. A match at first-place Man City is not exactly conducive to turning fortunes around. But perhaps Eriksen’s return to the field, whenever it may come, can have that effect.
”It’s great news,” Man City manager Pep Guardiola said. ”He came back to play what he loves and what he does exceptionally well and I’m pretty sure the doctors took all the measures… Fortunately he can come back and it’s good news for him, his family of him, for Brentford. “
All in due time.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism