Keeping Christian Eriksen crucial if Tottenham want to make step to next level

It's no exaggeration to say Eriksen is the greatest Danish outfield player since the Laudrup brothers. If Spurs have designs on moving on to the next level keeping him at the club is crucial

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Football is so often a cruel game. For 88 minutes against Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday, Brighton & Hove Albion looked on course for a point that wold take them four clear of 18th-placed Cardiff City and edge them a step closer to Premier League survival.

They came to stifle, stunt and subdue their hosts, building a fortress around Mat Ryan's goal. Tottenham's cavaliers were repelled time and again through a combination of warrior spirit, personified by the twin towers of Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy, and a goalkeeper who often seemed to grow well beyond his 1.84-metre frame.

Tottenham's attacks were mostly limited to speculative long-range efforts - surely there has never been as many left-footed shots by predominantly right-footed players over 90 minutes? - and the kind of endless sideways passing not witnessed (thankfully) since Louis van Gaal's final days at Manchester United.

It says something about how depleted Tottenham's ranks are, and how desperate they became, that Vincent Janssen, the forgotten Dutchman who had not played a minute of Premier League football since August 2017, was summoned from the bench by Mauricio Pochettino for one final throw of the dice.

In the end it was left to the most creative player on the pitch to settle the match. Pitted against Brighton's dogs of war, it was Spurs' great Dane who struck the decisive blow.

Christian Eriksen is a wanted man, and not just by his own club. Reports that Real Madrid are set to raid North London for one of its best talents will come as no surprise, especially with talks to extend a contract that expires next summer having stalled.

Few players are able to resist the lure of the Spanish club's pull. Luka Modric and Gareth Bale have swapped the white of Tottenham for that of Madrid in recent years. Eriksen was signed  in 2013 to fill the void left by Modric's departure for the Bernabeu the previous summer. He could do so again, with Modric looking a shadow of the player who guided Madrid to a third successive Champions League crown and Croatia to a World Cup final in the space of two months last summer.

But Eriksen's late intervention against Brighton could cause a shift in the collective psyche of an entire club. Spurs deserved the three points for their attacking endeavours but for 88 minutes, they threatened to do the "Spursy" thing and not press home their advantage against vastly inferior opposition, to punish the slips ups by their top-four rivals - Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United - all of whom had floundered to varying degrees in their most recent fixtures.

Victory kept Spurs third in the Premier League and with a more favourable run-in on their immediate rivals. They also face Ajax over two legs for a place in the semi-finals of the Champions League.

Though the young upstarts from Amsterdam have been the standout team in this season's tournament, eliminating Real Madrid and Juventus to set up a semi-final showdown with Spurs, of which the first leg takes place in London on Tuesday, given the other last-four opponents - Barcelona and Liverpool - Spurs feel they are in the better half of the draw. They may feel Lady Luck is smiling down on them too, given the intervention of VAR in their quarter-final classic against Manchester City.

Under Pochettino's guidance, Spurs have become regular qualifiers for the Champions League though their final league position in England. The new stadium already has the feel of a fortress and in Eriksen they possess one of the most sort-after creative players in Europe. But to make the next step, that is, winning trophies, a combination of backing their manager in the transfer market and paying their few world-class players world-class wages has to be the board's mindset.

It's no exaggeration to say Eriksen is the greatest Danish outfield player since the Laudrup brothers. If Spurs have designs on moving on to the next level, keeping him at the club is crucial.