Dier goes from Spurs stand-in to his country’s best anchorman
England owe great debt to Pochettino for taking a gamble on youngster in the holding position
Maybe England can now stop asking where the next Owen Hargreaves might come from
Mauricio Pochettino’s unofficial role as the shadow England manager was enhanced when Eric Dier rose to head the winner in a 3-2 comeback win shaped by Tottenham Hotspur. The conversion of Dier from defender to defensive midfielder is one of many dividends for Roy Hodgson from the renaissance at Spurs.
While Harry Kane and Dele Alli were the more glamorous representatives here of Pochettino’s work, Dier may have solved a national manpower deficit. When Spurs elected to experiment with this 22-year-old from Cheltenham via Portugal in a pre-season friendly against Real Madrid, fans of the club thought they had simply failed to sign a proper screening player. Instead, Pochettino backed a hunch that looks like carrying Dier to a starting role at Euro 2016.
That powerful, decisive header in the dying moments of an encouraging night in Berlin was not some lucky goal from a speculative set-piece. Dier planned it. “I’d found myself free a couple of times because they obviously mark zonally, which I’m not used to, really, in England,” he said. “Jordan [Henderson] was putting them to the back post, so I asked him beforehand if he’d put one to the front post. He put it right on the spot, so it made it easy for me.”
Intelligence is an obvious attribute of Dier’s work. A reservation is that England’s 4-3-3 formation asks too much of him against a world-class central midfield unit of the sort Germany are able to summon ( Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira, Mesut Özil). But Dier coped wonderfully with that heavy workload and England are now starting to feel they may have a holding midfielder of international calibre.
Dier said: “Me and a lot of the other boys are young lads, so to play against these established players – they’re very, very good players – was brilliant, to test ourselves. It’s very enjoyable but obviously it’s going to be hard work at times because no matter how good you are, how well you play, how good you are tactically, they’re going to create chances and they are going to have opportunities. I think we limited them and we did well with that.”
The genesis of Dier’s conversion was last August, when Pochettino announced: “I made that decision from the start of pre-season. He played well in midfield and was comfortable in that position. He played it before. In Portugal [where he grew up] they play like a centre-back or holding midfielder. His skill is he can play in different positions in the pitch.”
“Obviously, us Spurs boys know how lucky we are to have him because he’s been brilliant for us,” Dier says of Pochettino. “He demands a lot of us, always wanting us to improve. That’s what’s put us in the position we’re in now, so we’re obviously very grateful to him and we want to repay him.
“Everyone gets a bit excited with the whole youth thing, but I think at our club the manager won’t just play any youngster. You’ve got to deserve it. If you deserve it, then he’ll give you your chance.”
Few at Spurs shared the manager’s enthusiasm for this apparently hole-plugging switch but now maybe England can stop asking where the next Owen Hargreaves might come from. With Jack Wilshere’s injury record, Michael Carrick dropping away and Henderson falling below the required standard, Dier already has a strong grip on the England No 4 shirt.
After his header blasted past Manuel Neuer, Dier joined the other four Spurs players in the match-day squad for a brief communion: “We did, in the dressing room. It’s great for us five [Kyle Walker was an unused substitute]. We really enjoyed it and I think all four of us put in a good performance. I am really happy for Danny Rose because I think it’s a long time coming, really. For me, he has been the best left-back in the Premier League this season so I’m really happy he got his chance.”
Premier League football is labouring in European club competitions but Dier thinks its volatile and competitive nature helped England when they went 2-0 down. “I think everyone was down after the second goal, but when Harry [Kane] got his to make it 2-1 that lifted everyone,” he said.
“It sort of had a Premier League feeling about it. Lots of times in the Premier League, when you’re 2-0 up and someone scores, they go on to win it, so that lifted everyone. We’re a young squad, we’re energetic, we won’t stop – so we’re obviously very happy. I think we deserved it.”
From Roy Hodgson – the real England manager – came the kind of praise he would probably rather not give at this delicate point but was obliged to. “I thought he was very good. I was really, really pleased with him, “Hodgson said of Dier. “I thought against France he was excellent and outstanding and I wouldn’t be surprised if I think similar when I see the game back.
“What’s more, of course, he had the ability to score a goal. To score one against Germany, at that stage and win the game, I think he can talk that one up for many years.”
Rising to the task: Eric Dier caps an excellent display against Germany by heading the winning goal