Perhaps it was the sound of an era ending. Exit Christian Eriksen to a soundtrack of boos. In one respect, his substitution against Liverpool on Saturday will not mark the end of his Tottenham career; Jose Mourinho has promised to pick him in Tuesday's FA Cup replay against Middlesbrough and to select him at Watford on Saturday, but tellingly he said: “I cannot tell you much more than that.”
But in another way, whether or not Inter Milan accelerate their interest to sign the Dane this month, the supporters’ symbolic vote of dissatisfaction was the prelude to a sad parting of the ways.
Eriksen may linger until the summer but it will be the anticlimactic conclusion. Tottenham’s rise and fall under Mauricio Pochettino can be traced through him, the problems of their financial model being exacerbated by his eventual departure, especially if it is on a free transfer.
Perhaps no one, with the exception of Inter, will win. Certainly not Tottenham, who had hoped for a windfall in excess of £100 million (Dh476m) last summer. Nor Eriksen, whose hopes were pinned on a move to Real Madrid or Barcelona and who discovered Spain’s dominant duo do not have the space for everyone who piques their interest. Nor, arguably, Manchester United, who ought to have signed the Dane to remedy their lack of midfield creativity but whose plight makes them a less attractive proposition.
For Eriksen, it is shaping up to be a wasted season when he ought to be at his peak. He was a shadow of his former self against Liverpool. "If you ask me if this is the best Christian Eriksen, I have to be honest and say no,” said Mourinho. “I'm not an idiot, I've been in football for many years.”
Long enough to witness Eriksen facilitate Spurs’ rise. Signed with the proceeds of Gareth Bale’s 2013 sale to Real Madrid, in effect he became Luka Modric’s belated replacement, the technician who increasingly dropped deep to dictate games.
Liverpool beat Spurs
The dynamics of a Pochettino midfield, whereby Mousa Dembele, Dele Alli and Eriksen could all operate in similar areas but were the runner with the ball, the scorer and the passer respectively, may have been peculiar to the point of being inimitable, but produced Tottenham’s most impressive, cohesive team for decades.
Eriksen altered the perception the Bale millions were squandered. He provided the cleverness to a team defined by its physicality. He combined elegance with productivity: his first six seasons in the Premier League brought 49 goals and 60 assists.
This campaign has brought just two of each. Pochettino recruited his preferred successor to Eriksen, in Giovani Lo Celso, without the Dane actually going. Mourinho arrived and has targeted another midfielder, Benfica’s Gedson Fernandes.
If Pochettino could accommodate two of Alli, Eriksen and Lo Celso, Mourinho’s rather more prosaic football only left room for one. He alighted on Alli, as a project player. Eriksen’s evident wanderlust made his exclusion easier.
His presence against Liverpool, alongside Harry Winks in an underpowered, unMourinho-ish midfield, was the consequence of injuries. Miscast because of the missing, a misfit for the style of football, in a mundane side, Eriksen underperformed. “It's normal that a player in this situation doesn't perform at the highest level,” Mourinho added, but Eriksen bore the brunt of fans’ anger.
The sense of rejection contributes. Toby Alderweireld has signed a new contract. Jan Vertonghen might. Eriksen won’t. But, given his quality, he has been underpaid for years. Tottenham prospered with an Everton-esque wage bill and will now pay the price for it as they lose Eriksen for either a cut-price fee or nothing. He will be a financial and a footballing loss.