Christian Eriksen was poor by his usually high standards during Tottenham's 2-2 draw at Manchester City on Saturday. The Danish midfielder struggled to get into the game -- though, in his defence, it is a challenge for even the very best to make an impact as a visiting player at the Etihad -- and when he did have the opportunity to create or make a difference, he made a mess of it.
There was one instance, late in the second half, when Harry Kane peeled off his marker to run into space on the right flank. Eriksen had the ball at his feet, with the time and space to pick out his teammate and release him for a clear run at goal. But instead, the 27-year-old took too long to make his decision and was dispossessed, allowing City to turn a potentially dangerous situation into an attacking move of their own.
It certainly wasn't the kind of contribution you would expect from a player with designs on a big-money move to Real Madrid or Barcelona. However, having told Spurs that he would not be extending his contract (which runs out next summer) as he wants to seek a new challenge elsewhere, sources have told ESPN FC that the former Ajax playmaker is only interested in moving to those two Spanish giants or, as a third choice, Juventus.
Eriksen is still a Tottenham player, but his head and heart are set on playing for somebody else. Yet just like Paul Pogba at Manchester United, who is also keen to make the move to Real, Eriksen has discovered that there is not quite the appetite, or financial capability, at the other end to get a deal done.
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino has been unable to state categorically in recent weeks that Eriksen will not be sold before Europe's transfer deadline on Sept. 2. But sources have told ESPN FC that there is a sense of bemusement at Spurs over the midfielder's mindset, because there has been little sign of genuine interest from Real, Barca or Juventus.
Eriksen, it seems, is holding out for a deal that shows little sign of happening. Spurs are prepared to hand him a new contract worth £200,000 a week, which would tie him to the club until his early 30s, but he has shown no interest in even discussing the terms on offer.
When United made a tentative attempt to persuade Eriksen to move to Old Trafford prior to the Premier League transfer deadline earlier this month, they were also given short shrift, with the clear message coming back that only Real, Barca or Juve would be able to persuade him to leave Spurs this summer.
If none of his desired clubs make a last minute move (with Italy's deadline coming even earlier on Aug. 23), Eriksen is probably facing a full season at Spurs unless a high-profile injury at Real, Barca or Juve force them to pursue him in the January transfer window. But what happens next summer, when he becomes a free agent and his "big three" still don't want him?
Real will need a replacement for Luka Modric at some point, but they have signed Eden Hazard this summer and Pogba will be the priority at the end of this season, so it is difficult to see Eriksen being high on their shopping list.
Barcelona have offloaded Philippe Coutinho on loan to Bayern Munich because they have no room for a spare goal-scoring No. 10, so that doesn't bode well for Eriksen's hopes of moving to Camp Nou, especially with Antoine Griezmann having been signed already.
And while Juventus are the kings when it comes to snapping up a free agent, they will need to find a way to persuade Paulo Dybala to move on from Turin before turning their attentions to Eriksen -- if this summer has shown anything it's that Dybala will only leave on his terms and when it suits him.
Bayern Munich could have been a good option for Eriksen, but their loan deal for Coutinho includes an agreement to buy him permanently for €120m next summer, so the door to the Allianz Arena appears firmly closed. Yet Eriksen does have at least one option worth considering: staying at Spurs.
Since arriving from Ajax in 2013, he has been an integral figure in the growth of the club to the point where Spurs are now one of Europe's elite. The trophies have not yet materialised, but reaching the Champions League final last season was genuine progress and a sign of Tottenham's ability to compete with the best. They also have a world-class new stadium, one of the best training grounds in the game and a manager who is rated highly by the world's leading clubs.
Staying looks like it is Eriksen's best option because, if he looks closely at the others, he may realise that it is the only one that stacks up.