The missing piece to the Scudetto puzzle?
This week, one of the longer running transfer dramas of the season came to an end, as Tottenham midfielder Christian Eriksen departed North London for Inter Milan in a €20 million move. The deal is especially notable as Eriksen’s contract with Spurs was expiring at the end of the season. Inter could have signed him on a free transfer and had him join in June, but they shelled out the money necessary to get Eriksen in the Nerazzurri shirt for the rest of this season in order to boost their title chances.
Outside of the scintillating form of Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, the strength of this Inter team comes from their midfield. The trio of Marcelo Brozovic, Stefano Sensi, and Nicolo Barella are each fantastic players. Barella, and Sensi before his injury at the beginning of the season, is playing better than most midfielders in the league this season, while Brozovic has been a consistent performer in the Nerazzurri engine room. Antonio Conte’s style of play in his 3-5-2 relies on confident possession of the ball, playing out of the back, and transitioning from midfield to attack in a rapid-but-still-controlled manner, and those three midfielders are crucial to that plan working out. The issue that Conte has had to face this season, however, is if one of those three is injured, the drop in quality between the starters and reserve midfielders is quite noticeable. Mathias Vecino, Borja Valero, and Roberto Gagliardini are Inter’s three reserve midfielders, and while they are all at least passable players, they are not good enough to play a key role in a title contending team. When one of those three plays along with two of the main starting midfielders, the difference in quality is very apparent to the viewer. With Mathias Vecino linked with a move away this window, it was clear Inter needed to bring in another midfielder to provide more quality in that area of the pitch. In this lated period of struggle for Inter, they were without one of their three main midfielders in their 1-1 draw with Atalanta and their 1-1 draw with Cagliari, and those two results are partially responsible for Inter falling out of first place in the league.
Eriksen is not just a player brought in to supplement midfield depth. The Dane brings a level of creative skill and flair to the midfield that neither Barella nor Sensi could bring. Eriksen finished with 10+ assists in four of his five seasons in North London, while regularly supplementing those assists with goals, especially from set pieces. He slots in nicely in Inter’s three man midfield, playing just behind the front two with license to roam and find the half-spaces between midfield and defense. He also fills a role that Inter do not necessarily have another player to play. Barella and Sensi each have some strong attacking qualities, but neither can really be classed as a true number 10 as Eriksen can. He offers Inter a better creative outlet in midfield, boosting their chance creation and giving them a possibly better creative outlet than attacking through their wingbacks. The possibility of Eriksen combining with Lukaku and Martinez, as he combined with Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son with Tottenham, is very exciting to think about, and it should excite all Inter fans. On top of the additional quality, Eriksen is only 27 and locked down on a long-term deal. Inter signed a quality attacking midfielder in the prime of his career for only €20 million. It is a deal that could help Inter stay title contenders for the next few years.
Now here is the real question: does it matter? Will Eriksen help Inter win the Scudetto this season? Will the signing be a failure if Inter do not win the league?
The answer to the first two questions is simple: maybe. Winning a league title in any league, not just the Serie A, requires quite a few pieces in a team to fit together and quite a few things to go your way. There is also a fair bit of luck involved, so one signing will most likely not guarantee a league title. Signing Eriksen, however, absolutely does not hurt those chances, and he is a player that makes Inter better as a team. Inter’s title hopes will possibly hinge on their ability to beat Juventus in Turin in March, and while a player like Eriksen does not catapult Inter above Juve in terms of quality, he is a player who can produce that moment of quality needed to win an important match.
The answer to the final question is more clear: no. Definitely not. The success or failure of the Eriksen deal is not dependent upon Inter winning the Scudetto. Now, if Eriksen performs poorly over a long stretch of time, then yes the deal would be seen as a failure. If Eriksen performs very well but Inter still do not win the Scudetto, the signing is not a failure. The fact he was purchased instead of signed for free could be brought up, but, especially for the level of player they got in return, the fee was not that significant. If I was in the shoes of Antonio Conte, Inter CEO Giuseppe Marotta, or Inter President Steven Zhang, and I had the possibility to sign a season-altering player for free in the summer or on a slim fee right now, I would choose the latter in a heartbeat. With PSG expected to sign Mauro Icardi on a permanent deal for a fee of €65 million, Inter will definitely earn the Eriksen fee back. Also, Eriksen is in the prime of his career. He could be a crucial cog in this Inter team for the next few seasons, in which they will be one of the main title contenders in Serie A. Bringing him in to help the team’s chances at a title this season is a no-brainer, but this is also not an immediate-term move. Eriksen will be important for Inter over the next several seasons, so if they do not win the Scudetto this season, that does not mean they will not be contenders next season or the season after.
Christian Eriksen is an Inter player. The title race in Serie A just got that much more interesting.