Season 2009-10 was my “Year of the Back Spasm”. I’d moved to Odense to challenge for the number one jersey with their Polish keeper, Arek Onyszko.
A silly idea in retrospect, seeing as I’d rated him as the best keeper in the Denmark at that time.
It’s as gladiatorial as football gets, with any weakness being magnified and punished – I felt sorry for this scrawny little kidDAVID PREECE
But I knew OB were going to challenge for the title that season and I’d been the mostly injured captain of a side who been relegated and failed to bounce back at the first attempt.
Whatever happened, I thought, it was going to be nice to be part of a winning team for a change.
It wasn’t a great year though.
When I signed for Odense I’d just recovered from a ruptured bicep tendon and had spent six months out injured but still the move went ahead.
As well as the long list of broken bones, tendon tears and concussions, I had suffered from a chronic back problem since I was 15 which I’d managed with the help of osteopaths, chiropractors and a few dodgy witchdoctors along the way but until I discovered prolotherapy, I needed all help the help I could to get out of bed every morning.
This particular season nothing seemed to work. It was so bad that the only way I could get enough relief to allow me to sleep was to lie flat on my back on the wooden floor of my bedroom.
I was only ever 60% fit at best and struggling for confidence.
The last thing I needed was a 16-year-old kid making me look an idiot.
I’d spoken to Uffe Pedersen, Odense’s talent chief, about this kid who he said was one of the best he’d seen and there was great interest in him.
When those other suitors include Real Madrid, Barcelona and Chelsea, competition for his signature was frantic.
The first time I saw Christian Eriksen play he’d been pulled over to make up the numbers and join in a session with the players who had been on the bench that Sunday.
He trudged over, head down, looking more like a 12-year-old than the school leaver age was. We were to do a one v one session. Two goals, 18 yards apart, a keeper in either one, two players fighting it out in the middle.
It’s as gladiatorial as football gets, with any weakness being magnified and punished. I felt sorry for this scrawny little kid.
I thought he was going to get eaten alive up against the older players.
The sympathy soon drained away when the keeper opposite me rolled the ball to Christian and he curled the ball past me, first time, into the top corner.
“That was lucky” I thought. In this exercise, when you score you retain possession, so the ball was rolled to him again.
This time he took the ball to his left and cut back on his right.
I saw the opportunity to nip all this nonsense in the bud and come and take the ball and wipe him out while I was at it.
Obviously I wasn’t going to stand for this nonsense.
I came flying out of the blocks. Not interested in whether I retained the ball or not and braced myself for the hit. Only there wasn’t one.
Nothing but fresh air as he scooped the ball over my diving body, and hurdled me before tapping the ball in the goal.
I barely had time to get back to my feet again as he peeled wide to offer himself and as the ball was fired into him, he smashed the ball into the unguarded goal.
20 seconds. Three goals. I felt like I’d been set up.
From the sideline I could hear laughing.
“Come on, David. He’s only a baby.” Yep, and he was urinating all over me. The next day we did a similar session.
This time he was up against the much maligned Eric Djemba Djemba.
Now, Djemba might not have been Roy Keane but he was a far better player than he ever showed in England.
A larger-than-life character who would regularly call Sir Alex and Cristiano Ronaldo and put them on load speaker so everyone could hear.
He was strong as an ox, too strong, which was his downfall because he always wanted to show off by holding players at arms length to prove it.
But he was still no match for the kid. It was like he was playing hide and seek with the ball except you never managed to find it.
A street con artist, asking you to pick which cup the ball is under. Only it’s never where you think.
The session ended prematurely with Djemba storming off the training pitch in protest (and embarrassment) when the deficit had reached double figures.
It wasn’t just what Christian did with the ball either.
He had the football brain and confidence to dictate players around him without coming across as arrogant.
Simple instructions that are beyond most 16-year-olds in that environment.Telling you where he wants the ball.
There’s more of an edge to him these days but he was so ice cold when you spoke to him you felt like checking his pulse.
Not boring. Far from it. Just placid. Thoughtful.
The club always had his interests at heart. Only ever dropping him into the odd session with us to stimulate a player light years ahead of his age group.
Having said that, he was better than most of us. Given his options, it says everything that he decided to move to Ajax for the football education rather than a much bigger move.
I often get asked who are the best players I’ve played with or against and it’s easy to reply with a Zlatan, Henrik Larsson or Chris Waddle.
Yet there’s a different pleasure you gain from seeing these young precocious talents fulfill their potential from afar.
As much as I loved John Stones, I never saw a £50 million move in his future but with Eriksen, it only seemed like a matter of time.
When you’re left red-faced in anger and embarrassment at having the ball coolly rolled between your legs by someone born in the same year your career began, it’s hard to imagine looking back and taking a twisted pride in it.
Mind you. He did nothing for that bad back of mine.