Speaking to the media for the first time since signing his new contract this week, Dele Alli said that the Spurs team “all want to be part of this journey together”, so that they can “achieve something great”. That is why Alli signed a new long-term contract, after Harry Kane and Erik Lamela did the same. For these players there is still an important sense of a shared enterprise. And the club have always been so astute in keeping almost every valued player on board with their shared journey.
But the next priority for Spurs, and the most important of all, is Christian Eriksen. Yes, Jan Vertonghen’s contract is up at the end of next season after Spurs exercised the option beyond this year. But Vertonghen is 31 years old now and is likely past the point where he would be sought after by Europe’s biggest, richest teams. Tottenham can likely keep extending Vertonghen’s contract one season at a time until he decides to leave or retire.
But Eriksen is different. He is 26 years old and coming into his peak years as a footballer. His contract is up at the end of next season. On £70,000 per week, he is paid far, far less by Spurs than he would be able to earn elsewhere. Ten months ago, Barcelona paid an initial £105m, potentially rising to £142m, to sign Philippe Coutinho. A transfer fee for Eriksen should not be much less than that.
What this means is that Eriksen is in a more powerful position in contract negotiations than any other Spurs player. If he does not sign anything this season then by the summer he will have just one year left on his deal and the club will have to consider something they are extremely loathe to do, selling a top player on the cheap.
These are the high stakes in the negotiations. Spurs remain confident of reaching an agreement, and they know that they would have to double Eriksen’s salary in order to keep him. Tottenham have been pushing the boundaries of their old wage structure this year: Harry Kane’s new deal is worth £200,000 per week, Dele Alli £150,000 and Erik Lamela £100,000, all big increases on their previous levels. Eriksen can expect a similar increase. But for now nothing is agreed and Eriksen’s camp are keeping their cards close to their chest. The longer this ticks on, the more leverage Eriksen has.
But then to watch any of Tottenham at all this year is to be reminded that their exciting future playing in their new stadium would barely be worthwhile without their brilliant playmaker. Because with Harry Kane still waiting to find his best form this season, after an exhausting summer in Russia, Eriksen is arguably their most important player. They certainly have no-one else quite like him, who can connect midfield to attack, see and execute those uniquely dangerous passes, slow the game down and speed it up, whatever Spurs require.
The story of Spurs’ season so far has been grinding out wins without playing well. The signature moment, at Old Trafford, owed as much to United’s mistakes as to Spurs’ own excellence. When Eriksen missed one month with an abdominal injury, Tottenham continued to scrape wins. But there is far more to it than that.
Remember the game at Inter Milan on 18 September, when Eriksen put Spurs ahead, ran the second half, only for Spurs to throw the game away at the end. Or the game in Eindhoven last week, where Eriksen took control, set up both Spurs goals, helping them into a 2-1 lead, which they threw away at the end too. Had Spurs won both of those games they would be on six Champions League points now and looking good for the last 16.
Eriksen is still not at 100 per cent fitness – he could not start against Manchester City on Monday – but he was excellent against West Ham in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday night. He played the pass through for Spurs’ first goal and took the corner for the third. West Ham could never lay a finger on him, given his canny knack of knowing where the space would be, drifting into it, taking the ball before any opponent had realised what had happened.
Having Eriksen on the pitch allows Tottenham to play a smoother, clever, more intricate game. They can release their runners earlier, they can find overlapping full-backs, they can give opposition defences questions they had not considered preparing for. And for all of Spurs’ immediate issues, about Hugo Lloris’ form, Kane’s sharpness and when the stadium will be ready, there are some things that matter more over the medium-term. Like having Eriksen tied down, the only man who allows Tottenham to play the football they want to play.
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