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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Christian Eriksen urges Brentford teammates: ‘Don’t go easy on me’ | Christian Eriksen

Christian Eriksen knew there might be question marks in the minds of his new Brentford teammates so he decided to address them head on. He felt more than ready for his first training session on Monday but did not want it to feel different for anyone else, so the previous night he told Thomas Frank he had something to say.

“There was a meeting before training and he said ‘welcome’ to me, and then I said a few words,” Eriksen said. “I said: ‘I’m here because everything has been cleared; if there are any questions you want to ask me, you can always ask me. Don’t go easy on me, because if there was any concern I wouldn’t be here.’ I told them that from the beginning.”

According to Eriksen, he was taken at his word. Nobody has held back over the past five days and that is exactly how he wants it. The trauma of his cardiac arrest last June during Denmark’s Euro 2020 match with Finland remains fresh in many minds and there is the knowledge, too, that Eriksen has been fitted with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) to alleviate the worst-case scenario of a recurrence. But Eriksen has not returned to the Premier League looking for favours and it was clear, in his formal unveiling as a Brentford player on Friday, that he does not see west London as a place to take life slowly.

The aim is to reach his old levels and, in doing so, show that he is no special case. “I felt from the beginning of this that I need to prove you can play with an ICD, if something that bad has happened,” he said. “You can return to normal life afterwards. That is more motivation for me, to show I am capable of that. Of course, at the same time, I have not forgotten how to play football. My body is still the same and my vision and my ability will still be the same – that has not changed.”

It is a mouthwatering prospect for an out-of-form Brentford, although Eriksen will not play against Crystal Palace on Saturday and the visit to Arsenal next weekend may also be too optimistic a target. “It was a long process to be where I am today, to get the full green light and really be convinced that I am able to play again,” he said.

That has always been the intention, beyond early moments of dejection when he told ambulance workers and his partner, Sabrina: “Keep my boots, I won’t need them.” Eriksen quickly found himself itching to get back and it was striking to hear the range of emotions that swirled around his head, five days after the incident, as he watched his teammates play Belgium on a television in Copenhagen’s Rigshospitalet, which is within sight of the national stadium. It was a heady summer’s day in the Danish capital: it felt as if the entire country had come out for Eriksen.

Christian Eriksen is stretchered off the pitch after receiving medical assistance during Denmark’s Euro 2020 match with Finland
Christian Eriksen is stretchered off the pitch after receiving medical assistance during Denmark’s Euro 2020 match with Finland. Photograph: Friedemann Vogel/EPA

“It was tough, also because you’re in hospital 200 metres away from the stadium where you would have played if this hadn’t happened,” he said. “So there was a bit of sadness to be watching; at the same time you were annoyed because ‘why did it happen to me, why can’t I play because I feel normal? I feel good, why can’t I just go out now and play?’ It was a bit of a mix but it was tough to see, because I wanted to be there, I wanted to play that game.

“Even the Finland game, watching in hospital, I wanted to play the last 30 minutes. But that was the weird feeling: that I hadn’t felt what happened, that I don’t feel anything bad has happened, I just know it has happened. That’s also why mentally I was in a good place really quickly, luckily. It’s also thanks to the doctors – they saved me quickly.”

Eriksen has taken advice from Daley Blind, his former teammate in Ajax’s youth system, about playing with an ICD. Blind was fitted with the device in December 2019 after being diagnosed with heart muscle inflammation; the former Belgium Under-21 player Anthony van Loo also has an ICD and it was shown to work when, in 2009, it shocked his heart back into its normal rhythm after an arrhythmia episode during a match.

“That’s what you have the ICD for, in case that happens,” Eriksen said. “Two players when I was younger had ICDs. I’ve never seen it in use, and it’s also something you don’t want to see, but you’re lucky that it’s there to help. But I spoke to Daley a lot of times about everything: the rehab, the feeling, what it feels like with and without it.”

Eriksen has the option of playing with padding to protect his chest and tried that for the first time in Friday’s training session, although his instinct is that it will not be necessary. He feels ready for whatever is thrown at him – joking that, besides, “I don’t do tackles” – and hopes opponents go about their business with as few scruples as his Brentford colleagues.

“I hope they treat me the same as everyone else because I am,” he said. “I will be the same, as I told everyone at Brentford on the first day. I think it will take a few games or less and people will see nothing has changed: they don’t need to be worried about me as a person or a player.”

The clear aim is that the journey back picks up inexorable speed from here. “One of the first things I told my heart doctor at the time was that if I’m going to come back, my aim is I want to be fit before the World Cup,” he said. That is still nine months away, a few weeks longer than the time since Eriksen’s collapse caused such horror; the sight of him smiling for photos on Brentford’s pitch suggests no target is unreachable any more.

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