Brendan Crossan: The kids' gospel, according to Christian Eriksen
SATURDAY mornings in our house used to be known as the Great Lie In.
It was the only day when the clock ticked past 8am and you could roll back over to sleep again.
Those blissful Saturdays ended the day I enrolled Rosa, my five-year-old daughter, with St Malachy’s OB Youth Football Club last year.
The youth club was established just three years ago and has 300 kids on its books with teams ranging from U5 to U12. The progress of the north Belfast club in such a short space of time has been incredible.
With all new things in life, Rosa’s interest in playing football could have gone either way.
But thanks to the infectious enthusiasm of her first coaches at the club – Sean Roscoe and Paddy Whyte – she can’t wait to meet her wee friends every Saturday morning at Solitude and to embark on a mazy, left-footed dribble.
Much like her father, she’s not too fond of tackling. But she’ll get there under the calming presence of her coaches Laura Vernon and Ciaran Byrne.
I am now a fully-fledged paid-up member of the world-weary parents society every Saturday morning.
Solitude, Cliftonville FC's ground, is a hive of activity. There are literally hundreds of kids from different backgrounds playing small-sided games.
Maybe it’s the early-morning grumpiness that takes over, but I’m inclined to view kids with gelled hair, fluorescent-coloured boots and taped up socks with deep suspicion.
You don’t want your kids too well turned out for fear of them thinking they’re attending a fashion show rather than learning how to play football.
Rosa wants a gold pair of football boots, just like her cousin Gerard. I’m adamant she’s not getting them. But, with all these things, I’ll probably cave in.
Her wee team loses more games than they win - probably because they’re often playing against boys – but that’s okay.
In terms of innocence, our kids are in their absolute prime.
So when something good happens in their games, they’re celebrated with gusto.
It could be a dribble, a tackle, a last-gasp save (it’s usually last-gasp saves) or scoring a goal.
On Saturday mornings, and speaking from experience, a parent only needs to see one good moment from their child for their heart to soar like an eagle.
And if it doesn’t happen, there’s always next week.
Watching your kid learn the game and find their way is one of life's pleasures.
But, of course, it’s not all milk and honey at Solitude.
Sometimes that early morning grumpiness stays with you for the entire 45 minutes.
A while back one of the opposition players scored a goal against our 2013s.
It was, in fairness, a brilliant individual goal – but they proceeded to run to their sideline and re-enacted one of Cristiano Ronaldo’s familiar goal celebrations, where they twirl around and point to the back of their jersey with their thumbs.
If Rosa did that she’d be grounded for a week. Maybe it’s because I don’t particularly like the younger generation being infatuated with a pouting narcissist.
It’s down to personal taste, of course, but there are better role models out there, better team players than the pristinely turned out Ronaldo.
For goodness sake, the man ices his face after games, so when he stops and gives interviews to the media his features sparkle against the glare of the camera lights.
You rarely see kids with Christian Eriksen on the backs of their jerseys. And yet there is no better top-level footballer to learn from.
There are no rehearsed goal celebrations from the unassuming Dane. No pouting. No scowling. No extravagant step-overs.
It was only when the Republic of Ireland were preparing to face Denmark in last year’s World Cup play-off games that I studied some of Eriksen’s games and stats.
I was mesmerised.
Sometimes greatness is right under our noses.
He is the most balanced, most two-footed player in world football.
He keeps the game incredibly simple and never forces the play. He will gladly play a five-yard pass, sidewards or backwards, if nothing else is on and create another angle to attack.
But when the moment comes the Spurs man is the most ruthless assassin in front of goal.
His winner against Inter Milan in the Champions League on Wednesday night – arriving late in the area and on his supposedly weaker left foot he caressed the ball into the roof of the net – was a typical Christian Eriksen finish.
Despite the harrowing experience of the Republic of Ireland’s 5-1 defeat in the second leg of last November’s World Cup play-off, watching Eriksen score three goals that night was a privilege.
Each strike was a work of art.
Barring Lionel Messi, Eriksen is probably the most intelligent footballer in the modern game.
Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp once said Eriksen’s market value would soar if he had a “tattoo or silly hair-cut”.
“He is the most underrated player in the Premier League. He makes Harry Kane and Dele Alli tick with phenomenal service.”
Every time Eriksen plays football you learn something.
You learn the importance of keeping the game simple. You learn the importance of not forcing things.
You appreciate the importance of space and when to get ahead of the ball.
Greatness comes in different forms.
Eriksen has turned ‘playing it simple’ into an art form.
He is the best tutor a budding young footballer could have.
I’ll be selling Christian Eriksen jerseys at Solitude on Saturday morning.
No hair gel. No step-overs. And definitely no rehearsed goal celebrations...