As Christian Eriksen made his latest attempt to say goodbye to Tottenham, having earlier been jeered by sections of the home crowd, it was difficult to ignore how cold and cynical the business of football can be. Or, on a more micro level, how much longer this saga has to run.
Eriksen made it clear that he wanted a fresh challenge last June only for nothing to materialise over the summer. He appeared to be saying his farewells after the home defeat by Liverpool on Saturday, when his substitution had been cheered by some supporters, and he went through the same routine after Tuesday’s FA Cup replay win over Middlesbrough, handing over his shirt to a young fan. The announcement of his name before the game had been booed.
Eriksen will not sign a new contract to replace the one that expires in June and he wants to join Internazionale immediately. The Italian club have offered €10m (£8.5m) and it is plainly a low figure for a player of Eriksen’s quality. Spurs want at least double that. And so, with half of the January window still to go, what price a quick resolution? Will there be more of the same between Eriksen and the Spurs support at Watford on Saturday lunchtime?
The situation is far from ideal for José Mourinho who, as he manages injuries and what he feels is a squad with imbalances, knows that he is relying upon a player who cannot produce his best. “Playing when he’s legally free to negotiate with another club, does that affect his performance?” Mourinho said of Eriksen before the Middlesbrough game. “I think so.”
Thank heavens then for a case study from the opposite end of the spectrum, the one in which youthful optimism and a certain innocence are the key markers. To listen after the Middlesbrough tie to Japhet Tanganga, the 20-year-old Londoner who had just played his third senior game for the club, was to be reminded of the basic joy that the sport can bring.
Tanganga’s Spurs debut came in the Carabao Cup penalty shootout loss at Colchester last September, when he played in central defence – his regular position. But the fiery baptism came in his first Premier League start against Liverpool, when he was asked to play at right-back and subdue Sadio Mané before being switched to left-back midway through the second half where he came up against Mohamed Salah. Tanganga emerged with credit and he will never forget the moment when he met up with his father afterwards.
“I was really happy to just see the joy on his face,” Tanganga said. “He’s worked so hard for years, taking me to football, sacrificing time off work to take me to games, standing there in the cold watching me when it’s raining. He’s just been there. I’m so grateful for all that he’s given me. I was so happy.”
Was Tanganga nervous before the Liverpool game? “Leading up to it, yeah,” he said. “A couple of times, I barely slept. But there’s a reason the manager chose me and so I can’t be thinking about nerves. As soon as I got in the tunnel, I was fine.
“Obviously beforehand I was thinking Mané and Salah are probably up there with the best. Mané’s African Player of the Year, Salah’s a great player. But the boys were just encouraging me, telling me Son [Heung-min] is a great player, as well, and you come up against him in training. Harry Kane, Lucas Moura, too. You’re doing it every day so you should be able to handle it.”
Tanganga, who again started at right-back against Middlesbrough, has looked a little raw at times in his one-on-one defending. Then again, it is a big step up and he has had plenty of good moments, including the goalline block to deny Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino. He has caught the eye when surging forward.
“I haven’t played right-back for a while but obviously if the manager needs me to do a job – left-back, right-back, midfield – I’ll do it,” Tanganga said. “I’m comfortable on the ball, I’m comfortable doing a job wherever the manager needs me. I want to work for the team.”
Tanganga’s contractual situation is a little unclear, with Spurs announcing last summer that he had signed a one-year deal but Mourinho saying on Monday: “Do you think I would play him if his contract was expiring?” Tanganga hopes and believes that his first-team story at Spurs has some way to run. For Eriksen, it is ending and doing so badly.
“I’ve been at Tottenham for a long time, since I was 10, and they’ve helped me a lot,” Tanganga said. “This club means a lot to me. I’d love to stay with them as long as I could and go on until I retire.”