Dier takes centre stage for Tottenham
Youngster could be in line for Euro 2016 place after rewarding Pochettino’s faith
When Mauricio Pochettino started liberally casting aside central midfielders in the summer, you wondered who on earth was going to fill Tottenham Hotspur’s middle ground. The Brazil international Paulinho was discarded. Étienne Capoue got sold to Watford. Lewis Holtby and Benjamin Stambouli were also shipped out.
Even at that point, though, I bet Eric Dier did not think he would be given the chance to form a key part of a Spurs side who look more substantial with each passing week.
A young player who had been sporadically used at right-back and centre-half last term, who had never played in midfield for any length of time, certainly did not look favourite to nail down a place in this particular area of the pitch.
Yet that has now happened with terrific results. Not only has Dier, 21, established himself next to Dele Alli, he has, like Alli, recently won a place in the senior England squad. And judging by the way he performed against France last Tuesday, Dier stands a fair chance of going to the European Championship finals next year.
There are not, after all, many players available like him – defensive-minded sorts who can get about the pitch with great efficiency, who are happy to confine themselves to the unspectacular business of covering space, of protecting the defence, of winning the ball and passing it simply.
From a club aspect, he also fits the profile of a Pochettino player – young, hungry, energetic and selfless, the qualities that see Spurs sitting four points off the top after easily beating West Ham United yesterday.
“I’m comfortable in this position,” he said after running Harry Kane close to winning the award for man of the match. He is also quite good in this position, as proved several times this season.
When I said that Dier knows when to keep it simple, that does not mean he cannot show a more ambitious streak.
One lovely pass to Alli here proved that he is capable of quickly spotting an opportunity, with a sound technique to back up that kind of adventure.
Maybe his time at Sporting Lisbon developed that ability. On their books from the age of eight having moved to Portugal with his family, Dier’s football education differs markedly from most English lads. In turn, his perspective on the game may be a little more rounded.
The upshot is that his temperament and character are now helping to carry him along. Dier looks the part in this vibrant Tottenham side, just as important to the cause as Kane up ahead and Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, so effective just behind.
No wonder Pochettino tied Dier up in September to a new five-year contract. It is good sorts like this the manager wants in his dressing room, people who are willing to follow his strict code.
It all goes to show you never know in this game. It may well be true that Pochettino tried and failed to recruit more midfielders.
But when those players failed to arrive, the Argentine looked round to size up his options. And like Alli, one of them has proved a very pleasing success.
Starring role: Eric Dier has emerged as a commanding central midfielder