Euro 2024: From cardiac arrest to a comeback, the Christian Eriksen story

Coach Kasper Hjulmand throws the playmaker a lifeline after his collapse on the pitch in 2021

Danish footballer Christian Eriksen (photo: NH)
Danish footballer Christian Eriksen (photo: NH)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

When Denmark kick off their Euro 2024 campaign against Slovenia in Group C on Sunday, 16 June, there is no guarantee that senior playmaker Christian Eriksen will figure in the starting XI. However, his return to the showpiece event – three years after his serious heart attack on the pitch – will be one of the enduring narratives of this edition in Germany.

The sight of Eriksen collapsing on the ground while on the move in their opening game against Finland and lying motionless as Simon Kjaer, the Denmark captain tried to resuscitate him with CPR, was grim enough to still give nightmares to football fans. After Kjaer’s attempts failed, he cleared a path for medics to get to work as the Denmark players formed a circle surrounding the area where Eriksen lay, fearing for the worst.

Leave alone returning to competitive football, the game’s fraternity prayed just for his recovery and Eriksen was miraculously back in business after a few months. After a period of hospitalisation and an implant in his heart, Eriksen was cleared to return to soccer but not with his then employers Inter Milan due to Italy’s Serie A rule of ban on players implanted with the type of pacemaker that he was fitted with.

He spent the end of the 2021-22 season with Brentford before joining Manchester United on a three-year deal in one of the most talked about transfer deals. However, the game time for Eriksen under underfire manager Erik ten Hag had been on the wane in recent times with the Dutch preferring the youngers Mainoo in a similar role.

However, national coach Kasper Hjulmand has now thrown him a lifeline – despite some criticism – when he named the 33-year-old creative Eriksen in the 26-member squad in end-May. He will be joined by United teammate Rasmus Hojlund and is expected to have a more central role in the Danish midfield, with Club Brugge winger Andreas Skov Olsen taking over his old position on the right.

Mikkel Damsgaard, who shouldered the creative burden after Eriksen’s collapse and led the team out of the group stage and on to a 2-1 semi-final defeat by England at Euro 2020, has also been included despite a rocky season at Brentford. Kjaer also made the squad after missing a number of late-season games for AC Milan due to a thigh injury.

Interestingly enough, Damsgaard’s reliance on Eriksen had evoked some strong reactions within the Danish football circles in the run-up to the Euros. When he was included in the squad for a number of friendlies in April, former Danish and Real Madrid midfielder Thomas Gravesen reacted angrily in the media. ‘’(Hjulmand) chose to take a player who has sat on the bench at Manchester United, Christian Eriksen, just to maintain relations,’’ Grevesen said.

Harsh words these, but it’s up to Eriksen now to prove there is still enough fire left in the belly. It’s quite likely that being irked at being continuously benched at United, he may seek a summer move with Turkish side Galatasaray or a switch to the Saudi Pro League.

Uefa, the European governing body of the game, has learnt their lessons well from the Eriksen affair. They have launched a major CPR and heart health campaign, using international stars such as Erling Haaland to promote its bid to train more than 100,000 fans in resuscitation skills.

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