One of the most common criticisms hurled at English footballers is their reluctance to move out of their comfort zones i.e. England and the Premier League and test themselves against the finest on the continent. Jack Wilshere, for example, was being pursued by the likes of AC Milan and Roma, continental powerhouses, but instead chose a year on loan at Bournemouth.
For the longest time, it was said that the reluctance to move abroad to breed complacency as being a decent English footballer would earn you a load of cash in the Premier League. Lately, however, we have seen some of England's young prospects move abroad to gain a better football education. The likes of Jordan Sancho come to mind as his spell at Borussia Dortmund is surely going to benefit him greatly. Oliver Burke and Reece Oxford, he of West Ham fame, are some of those who have tried to break the monotony and move abroad.
But one man bucked the trend. Born in Cheltenham, but brought up in Portugal, Eric Dier has risen to prominence as one of England's and Tottenham's key players in recent times. Initially arriving in England with Tottenham, Dier was fielded on the right side of the defense, as a fullback. Subsequently, he would play center defense and then make the defensive midfield position his own. His versatility makes him one of Mauricio Pochettino's most trusted lieutenants and a key part of the Tottenham's backbone.
Dier moved to Portugal when the country hosted the Euros' in 2004. He was soon referred to the Sporting Lisbon academy, where he would complete a continental education that benefits him to this day. In 2011, Dier was loaned to the Everton academy and it was there that he won the U-18 Premier League, impressing the staff at Sporting enough for them to call him back.
Just over 2 months after his debut for the 'B' side, Dier debuted for the senior side in November 2012. While he only made 27 appearances for the Sporting senior team, scouts from Tottenham had by this time, noted his potential and approached to sign him for a mere 4 million pounds, an outstanding bargain.
Dier's versatility can be traced back to his Sporting days when manager Jesualdo Ferreira blooded him as a defensive midfielder against the might of Porto. Dier made the position his own for the rest of the season. 4 months before that, on his debut, he had played right back, assisting the winner.
He started out in Sporting as a youngster playing seven-a-side and has often said that this allowed him to build a sense of tactical awareness. Even on his promotion to 11-a-side, Dier maintained that coaches in Portugal allowed players to express themselves freely and without harsh criticism and thusly, allowed them to flourish and grow.
This understanding of the game around him has undoubtedly aided Dier in becoming a better player. He may not be rapid like N'golo Kante or Idrissa Gueye but he more than makes up for it with his positioning. His intelligence goes beyond the pitch as well, as a renowned brainiac, who once claimed that in the locker room, the conversation was about Brexit and North Korea, not 'fast cars'.
Later in his career, when he was interviewed, Dier often spoke about how he was a foreign player in Portugal but also when he joined Spurs. He struggled to fit in at the Everton academy in what was, despite his English roots, unfamiliar surroundings, but his determination saw him pull through. His managers have often praised him for his selfless nature and his willingness to adapt and change his role and performance for the betterment of the team.
At present, when Spurs play a back 4 and the fullbacks push on, Dier often drops in between the two center-halves to form an auxiliary back three, aiding their solidity at the back and allowing Pochettino to build an exciting, well-oiled machine.
At the World Cup, Jordan Henderson was chosen over Dier for most games but he was entrusted with the responsibility to close out games by shoring up the defense. Despite the heartbreak of the defeat to Croatia, the English team won plenty of hearts with Gareth Southgate making them a genuinely likable team of players.
In conclusion, Eric Dier represents a combination of the English and Portuguese styles of play into a combative midfielder, one who idolizes the peerless Rafael Marquez. As a footballer, he took a road less traveled and in the process, he has become a pioneer. Thanks to his success, more Englishmen are looking to move abroad to broaden their horizons and receive extensive education in the beautiful game.
As for Dier, well, he is still a vital part of one of the Premier League's big sides and looking at the future, there is great scope for optimism as he looks to boss the league and finally wins a trophy for his club and country.Published 14 Jul 2018, 10:23 IST