We shouldn’t need reminding, but Christian Eriksen’s collapse told us that footballers aren’t just Xbox figures charging around in the heat for our entertainment. Even the superstars are flesh and blood, with frailties that may not be visible until mortality makes a lunge at them and the medics jump in to fend it off.
On the day another deluge of expectation fell on England, Eriksen was sending reassurance to team-mates from a hospital bed and reflecting on a near-miss that changed his future in an instant. After a year and half of Covid, individual misfortune is an hourly feature of life.
But all across football people reported sadness and shock at seeing a 29-year-old, agile, talented likeable footballer staggering and falling to earth with his life suddenly and inexplicably in danger.
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From Fabrice Muamba’s heart attack in 2012 at Eriksen’s former club, Spurs, we knew people can die or be pulled back from the void on football pitches. Talent obscures the risks taken by men and women who may be tempted to feel invincible.
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As the rest of Euro 2020 proceeds a little more gingerly after the crisis in Copenhagen, this may be time to reflect on how much elite athletes give of themselves, physically, and how unforgiving we are in our demands. In tournaments, even more than club competitions, players are sent out with a crushing burden of public pressure.
We’re not merely asking them to win the thing if they can. We’re saddling them with our boundless desires and insisting they leave every ounce of effort out there. Anything less and they can expect our fury, our accusations of betrayal.
All the players in this tournament have been pushed through the sausage factory of a Covid-compressed season of intense physical demands. This is not to attempt an amateur diagnosis of Eriksen’s ailment; more, a call for understanding, and a little gratitude, that footballers go to the lengths they do. The handsome rewards are irrelevant.
And with those physical sacrifices and risks in mind, seeing both teams come back out to complete the game after Eriksen was known to be stable and awake stirred misgivings. The Danish and Finish players were given a choice: complete the game or come back tomorrow.
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They chose to complete the game - the least of two unappealing options - which meant a tournament already shaped by Covid restrictions could continue on its wobbly course. The third option of a longer pause ought to have been on the menu.
The circular cordon formed by Denmark's players around the stricken Eriksen was haunting. It served two purposes. It shielded their friend from the eyes of the crowd and TV cameras but also formed a primal ring of love and loyalty around their friend, as if the only way they could all cope was to be indivisible and interdependent. You won’t see a stronger “team ethic”over the next month.
Where Eriksen’s career goes now feels like the least of the concerns (although probably not to him). Medical science is trying to save us all from Covid and it swooped, in a different form, to stop an admirable footballer who's still in his Twenties from falling into oblivion.
Day two of Euro 2020 reminded us not to take this teeming cast of performers for granted.
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