Simon Kjaer watches over team-mate Christian Eriksen after the Denmark midfielder collapsed on Saturday evening
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
Of all the images from a chilling night in Copenhagen, perhaps the most abiding was the extraordinary nimbleness of the medical response that saved Christian Eriksen’s life. From the intervention of his Danish team-mate Simon Kjaer, making sure that he was in the recovery position and that he did not swallow his tongue while unconscious, to the pitchside paramedics who helped usher him from Parken Stadium to Rigshospitalet within minutes, the reaction was an object lesson in how to mobilise when football’s worst horror materialises from a clear blue sky.
When Fabrice Muamba went into cardiac arrest and collapsed at White Hart Lane nine years ago, the shock sprang in part from the event’s extraordinary rarity. It is to the game’s immense credit, then, that it recognised that such scenes would happen again, even if it could not say how or when. Nobody in the stands, let alone the millions around the world, supposed that the dreaded moment would arrive in the 43rd minute of a somnolent goalless draw between Denmark and Finland. One of football’s great strengths, though, is that it plans for every eventuality, no matter how ghastly or outlandish.
Not long after the Premier League held its breath over Muamba, Arsene Wenger predicted that such a deeply disquieting incident would change the sport for the better. “Does football need to go in deeper with research, or deeper in control with heart problems, to stop these kinds of situations,” the Frenchman asked. “You can always learn something out of these types of situations.”
Eriksen, not that he carried any known pre-existing cardiac issue, was clearly a beneficiary of football’s resolve to learn from the Muamba case. It took mere seconds for Kjaer to suppress the shock of seeing his friend prone on the turf for him to summon the initial medical help. When the trauma of these sights eventually subside, it will be to the Milan centre-back that one of the most significant debts of gratitude is owed. Not only did he have the presence of mind to handle Eriksen’s stricken body, he also guided the rest of the Danish team to form a protective shield around the area and later headed to comfort the midfielder’s wife, Sabrina, hugging her and persuading her not to come on to the pitch. It was a display of quick thinking that commanded the deepest respect.
One day, the picture of that tightly-bunched guard of players, many of their faces betraying profound anguish, will come to be cited among the most stirring exhibitions of team spirit summoned in the name of sport. Kjaer, in particular, set in train the responses to an emergency that could have had a far graver outcome. But there must be acknowledgment, too, for the medics who administered the cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, and who saw to it that a player whose life hung in the balance at 5.43pm was pronounced awake by the Danish federation just 48 minutes later.
This was one occasion where honour deserved to be spread far and wide, from referee Anthony Taylor to the players, from the doctors to the physiotherapists, for their roles in bringing Eriksen back from the brink. It was also the sharpest reminder of the necessity for all teams, at no matter what level, to have a defibrillator close by and the people with the training to use it.
What could have been one of football’s darkest days turned out, in the fraught nightmare of one Copenhagen evening, to be one of its noblest.