As jubilant Leeds fans lingered after their team had left the field still overjoyed at a successful last-day relegation fight, it was impossible not to be drawn to the sight of Christian Eriksen.
The Dane danced on the Brentford Community Stadium pitch with his three-year-old son Alfred, waved to supporters as he walked along the touchline with his partner Sabrina and their young daughter, handed his shirt to a fan and clambered over seats to pose for selfies.
It was the drawing to a close of one of football’s greatest good-news stories – and now the 30-year-old is beginning the next chapter after signing a three-year deal with Manchester United.
Less than 12 months previously, Eriksen had collapsed during Denmark’s Euro 2020 game against Finland following cardiac arrest.
Slowly, he pieced his life back together. He had to leave Inter Milan after he had an implantable cardioverter defibrillator fitted, but he was free to play in England, and Brentford offered him a short-term deal.
Brentford didn’t win against Leeds. But Eriksen did. He had proved he could resume his professional career.
But, to be brutal, as a footballer, Eriksen is too good for Brentford.
It would be folly to claim Eriksen can transform Manchester United on his own. But he is the kind of signing the Old Trafford club have been desperate for.
The exit of Paul Pogba this summer has left new manager Erik ten Hag badly short of a creative element in his team. And Pogba’s contribution could be stellar or non-existent. Eriksen is a far more stable influence and far more consistent.
He proved at Brentford he retains the ability to see passes few others can. At a club like United, where attacking talent has foundered partly through the lack of chances created, that is a priceless commodity.
Bruno Fernandes was a breath of fresh air when he arrived at Old Trafford from Sporting Lisbon in 2020, mainly because he played with his head up and looked forward. Eriksen does that – and is more reliable with his execution.
He is capable of playing deep in midfield, or further advanced, either wide or as a number 10. In the type of fluid team Ten Hag is looking to put together, Eriksen’s major strengths are priceless commodities.
Should Cristiano Ronaldo remain at the club, as many believe is still possible despite the present position, Eriksen is capable of creating chances as he once did for Harry Kane at Tottenham and more recently Romelu Lukaku at Inter Milan.
Eriksen is not Ten Hag’s first signing of the summer – and he won’t be the last. But he could well be the most important.
Why Manchester United?
In January, when he had been cleared to return to the game, Eriksen had the choice of a dozen clubs.
When he settled on Brentford, the Bees had just lost 3-0 at Liverpool.
Eriksen gets on well with Thomas Frank, knew there was a Danish connection and wanted to help a struggling team.
When he made his debut against Newcastle on 26 February, Brentford had taken one point from seven games and slipped to 14th in the table, knowing every club below them apart from Norwich could overtake them given their matches in hand.
After the loss against Newcastle, Eriksen’s next nine Brentford appearances produced seven victories, including a goalscoring start in the never-to-be-forgotten 4-1 hammering of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, and an eventual 13th-place finish, 11 points clear of the relegation zone.
Eriksen’s contribution to that outcome is obvious. His legacy is another season’s Premier League money, another round of top-flight fixtures for fans to enjoy, increased commercial revenue – kit orders in the wake of his arrival came in from 21 countries around the world within the first 24 hours, a demand 30 times greater than would have been expected on a normal February day.
And all the time, Eriksen stayed within Brentford’s wage structure.
He felt he had kept a promise and delivered. However his future turned out, his conscience was clear.
Still, Brentford made their pitch to keep him – and waited.
Former club Tottenham did consider making an offer but eventually backed away. Newcastle were also interested. But in the end, it came down to a choice between Brentford and Manchester United.
Although there is no comparison between the size of the two clubs, Eriksen and his family were settled in London. When someone has been through the kind of trauma he has experienced, these things matter.
However, United can offer much more. Despite not being what they were under Sir Alex Ferguson, they still have the stadium, the fanbase, the finance and a European platform, albeit the Europa League rather than the Champions League.
Of equal importance, they have a new manager, with whom Eriksen shares a background at Ajax, and a fierce determination to right the wrongs that have left them floundering in the wake of old rivals Manchester City and Liverpool./BBC SPORT