On June 12, 2021, Denmark’s Christian Eriksen collapsed in the corner of the pitch during a European Championship match against Finland. As his teammates surrounded him, arm-in-arm, shielding him from the eyes of the world, doctors began working to save the midfielder’s life.
“Well, what should I say? He was gone. And we did cardiac resuscitation and it was cardiac arrest. How close were we? I don’t know,” said Morten Boesen, Denmark’s team doctor, the following day.
As Eriksen approaches the two-year anniversary of that life-changing moment, the 31-year midfielder is back on the pitch, has signed for one of the biggest soccer clubs in the world, and represented his country at the 2022 World Cup.
But this brush with death has made Eriksen remarkably philosophical and reflective – perhaps understandably – about life and living.
“I’ve learned that even after a bad time, there’s always a time after where everything will be different,” Eriksen told CNN Sport’s Amanda Davies and Laureus co-host after receiving the Comeback of the Year award at the Laureus Sports Awards in Paris.
“One of the first quotes I heard was that even if you feel good, you’re going to feel bad, you’re going to feel good again. It’s just going to go up and down – time is your best friend.”
When the midfielder collapsed in the first half of Denmark’s Euro 2020 match against Finland, nobody knew if he would ever play professional football again.
“What I’ve seen today, everyone has their own story, all kinds of different setbacks in every sport,” added Eriksen.
“The one I had was obviously a severe one, but nonetheless it made me still want to come back and play football, and then obviously to getting the award now.”
‘I’m probably even more relaxed’
After receiving life-saving treatment on the pitch, Eriksen was subsequently fitted with an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) device – a type of pacemaker intended to prevent fatal cardiac arrests by discharging a jolt to restore regular heart rhythm.
Serie A club Inter Milan, whom Eriksen had been contracted to at the time of the incident, told him that he would be allowed to move abroad in order to continue his football career, with the midfielder unable to play in Italy unless the ICD device was removed.
He started training with former club Odense Boldklub in Denmark, with Eriksen asserting that his heart was “not an obstacle” to his ambitions of a return to football and to play in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Eriksen joined Premier League club Brentford on a free transfer in January 2022. Following six months of “hard work” and 259 days after his cardiac arrest, Eriksen played in a Premier League match for the London club against Newcastle United.
In July 2022, Eriksen then signed a three-year deal with Manchester United, which was another free transfer.
But following the heart attack, Eriksen was unsure if he even wanted to continue his professional football career.
“Yeah, at the time I said it [wanting to quit football], obviously when they say you have a heart attack, and a lot of stuff will happen, you have an ICD and so on,” Eriksen explained. “But at the time also I knew that if I could play football I wanted to come back, but I wanted to do it in a safe, possible way.”
Eriksen says he’s “still the same person,” adding that, “I think the teammates will say the same. I’m probably even more relaxed than I was before.
“I’ve probably found out that football is life, but it’s not that important. There’s not a lot of other stuff that’s more important in life but football, of course, is an important one. But I’m just taking it step-by-step, really.”
Eriksen’s form in Manchester was good enough to earn him a spot in the Denmark squad at the 2022 World Cup – his main goal when returning to football.
“It was very, very special,” Eriksen remembered of his time in Qatar. “The aim of my comeback was I want to be able to get myself involved at the World Cup. [But] obviously, I didn’t think at the time that I was going to be starting and playing as I was at the World Cup.”
According to Denmark’s star man, the team in Qatar was more united than ever before following the incident.
“I think our bonding with the national team was very strong before, but definitely that helped them move even closer together,” the midfielder explained.
“Since I’ve come back into the team, I feel the atmosphere, which was good before, is even more bonding because they have experienced something together, that’s really a tough time, but they work it through and they came through in a positive way.”
The Denmark squad had a disappointing World Cup campaign in Qatar, but the story of Eriksen’s comeback will live on for a lot longer than their group stage exit.