Eric Dier Interview ....The Times..

whitestreak

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So you thought footballers were spoilt and monosyllabic? Step forward, Eric Dier, the Spurs and England defender who debates (among other things) the history of North Korea and the recent elections in Kenya with his team-mates. Who knew? By Matthew Syed


In the past two decades footballers have, for many sports fans and indeed non-fans, come to epitomise all that is wrong with celebrity culture. They are one-dimensional. Crass. Money-obsessed. Spoilt. Intellectually incurious. There lingers a nostalgia for the pre-George Best era, when players stuck with one club throughout their careers, travelled to the ground on the same buses that transported their supporters, gave their all for their country with minimal remuneration, and then retired to run a pub.

Compare and contrast with the modern game, in which the world’s best players are pampered multimillionaires, manipulated by their agents to ply their trade for any team that is prepared to part with the most generous pot of TV rights-generated gold. Roy of the Rovers has become Miguel of the Mercenaries. He is celebrated when he is scoring goals but mocked when he steps beyond the field of play.

This probably says more about the fans than the players. In this lucrative world of seven-figure salaries, sponsorships and endorsements, a modern player will in all likelihood be far more sophisticated and outward-looking than his forebears, for whom the height of culture was a game of cards on the team coach. What, honestly, was so great about the lumbering antics of the likes of Ron “Chopper” Harris or Norman “Bite Your Legs” Hunter in the good old days of the Sixties?

Eric Dier, the player sitting opposite me, is their modern counterpart, and is as likely to bite anyone’s legs as David Beckham is to end his days as a pub landlord. He is a 24-year-old defender who plays for Tottenham Hotspur, has already captained the England team and is one of the nation’s most important young players. He also visits art galleries, reads extensively and likes a political debate. Modern footballers, he says, are getting an unfairly bad rap.

“The Spurs dressing room is cosmopolitan,” he explains. “There are guys from all around the world, so you can talk about anything. In Kenya, there was an election recently and some controversy. Victor Wanyama is from Kenya, so we speak to him about it. Sonny [Son Heung-min, Spurs’ outstanding winger] is from South Korea, so he tells us about the political relationship between South Korea and North Korea. He talks about the history.

“Mousa Dembélé [Tottenham’s Belgian midfielder] and I have just had a four-day argument about weddings. All week! We were arguing about the concept of marriage. Do you need to be married to demonstrate commitment? We also had an argument about trendsetters. What is a trendsetter? How do you go about setting trends? I think that is the beautiful thing about football. The dressing room is really a place to learn about different nations and cultures, because you spend so much time together. Everyone brings something different.”

Dier is unusual among English professionals in that his own upbringing was split between the UK and Portugal, which made him untypically cosmopolitan even before he came to the modern professional game and its polyglot changing rooms. He was born in Cheltenham to Jeremy Dier, a former tennis professional, and Louise, who works in hospitality (his grandfather, Ted Croker, was secretary of the FA in the Seventies and Eighties), but the family moved to Portugal when Dier was seven, after his mother was offered a job running the hospitality programme at Uefa Euro 2004. It was a period, Dier remembers, when he and his siblings spent most of their time outside.


“I have five siblings, so a very big family,” he says. “If you met us all together, you’d realise that we can’t stay indoors too long or we start killing each other. They just decided it would be a better lifestyle for us as a family, and for us as kids, and it was probably the best decision they ever made.”

The Dier family initially lived in the Algarve and Eric started out in an international school before being invited to join the academy of Sporting Lisbon, one of the nation’s most high-profile football teams and alma mater to such footballing luminaries as Cristiano Ronaldo and Luís Figo. It was at this point that he moved to a Portuguese school, where all the lessons were in the native language. This was, he says, a shock, but also an opportunity to become fluent. His brothers and sisters also moved into Portuguese schools. “It was a great experience for all of us,” Dier says.

His progression in football was swift. He made his debut for Sporting’s first team in November 2012 and scored his first goal 15 days later. By this stage, he was already on the radar of a number of big European clubs, not least because of his cerebral positioning and reading of the game, and he’d had a period on loan to Everton. On August 2, 2014, he signed to Tottenham Hotspur for a fee of £4 million. His current salary is reportedly £3.5 million, translating into around £68,000 per week.

Dier speaks wisely about the blessings and curses of such largesse. “It is not easy for the family,” he says. “I am lucky to have the family I have. They have supported me like nothing else. But it is particularly tough for one’s siblings. At the age of 24, you are suddenly earning a lot of money and you are the centre of attention. That’s not easy to manage with your brothers and sisters. It’s one of the things that bothers me when people criticise footballers for making stupid decisions when they are 21 – everyone makes stupid decisions when they are 21. What people don’t understand are the challenges that come with fame. The scrutiny. It is quite intense.”

That intensity has once again morphed into moral outrage just before we talk, with former Liverpool and England player Jamie Carragher suspended from his job as a Sky Sports pundit after spitting at a man and his daughter during an altercation while driving. Dier agrees that the ex-defender’s behaviour is totally unacceptable. “But it also goes to show how quickly you can damage your reputation,” he says. “It was instant.

“I talk about this with team-mates a lot,” he continues. “Ten years ago, you could be quite anonymous. Today, that has changed. Cameraphones, social media – it is 24/7. It is constant. Anything that happens is out there straightaway. You can’t hide. There are times when you feel you can’t be yourself because of that. I am not very high up on people’s priorities, because I haven’t got the fame that others have in football. I can’t imagine what it’s like. But even for me, the eyes are always on you.”

Although Dier would never say it, there is a feeling that the incidents such as Carragher’s that seem to bedevil England players – drunken escapades by Wayne Rooney at a Manchester wedding; Jamie Vardy’s racism in a casino – just don’t happen on the continent. Similarly, yobbish parents abusing referees from the touchlines of junior games. Dier says that in Portugal there was a pride in bringing up children to be “polite and respectful” people. As a youth player, the coaches wouldn’t get angry if you missed a pass, but if you were disrespectful to someone, they would. There was no shouting on the training ground. And he admits it was a culture shock when he first played in England. “I think some people forget that I am essentially a foreign player,” he said back in 2015.

Dier met his girlfriend, Maria Hansen, in Portugal just before signing for Spurs, so it was initially a long-distance relationship. She now works in Shoreditch, east London, in product development, and, unsurprisingly, he says this is an equal partnership. “What is important for me, and for her, is that she has her own job and her own life. She works really hard and is very driven. She doesn’t mind my fame. If I am asked for a photo when we are out and about, she makes sure I am nice. If I were not nice, I would probably get a slap across the back of my head.”

It is, patently, a relationship far removed from drinking champagne in the roped-off section of blingy clubs. When the couple were papped last year, it was while leaving a private viewing of David Yarrow prints at the Maddox Gallery in Westbourne Grove, west London. Dier has recently bought an Erik Lindman painting and is interested in the work of photographer Andreas Gursky and architect John Pawson.

Dier smiles a lot as he speaks. He has keen eyes, a bright smile and an idiosyncratic laugh. His hands move as talks, somewhat like an orchestra conductor. The interview has been granted thanks to him being appointed ambassador for Braun shavers, and you can see why the company has hired him. He’s good-looking, urbane, successful, young, and there’s a nice bit of beard to play about with. He’s a poster boy without the vanity of a Beckham or Ronaldo. “I like guys where it looks effortless,” he says. “I like to think that is my style, but I probably take a bit of time to look as if I haven’t tried too hard.”

So far he has yet to feel the full force of football stardom off the pitch. But it is nonetheless a career loaded with expectation, for both club and country. One of the key challenges for a player breaking into top-flight football is that expectation, particularly when attached to a sizeable price tag. Dier, however, says that he didn’t experience any pressure. “I felt the opposite. When someone buys you, it means they want you. That gave me confidence. And luckily, I had a manager who was willing to throw me in at the deep end.”

That manager is Mauricio Pochettino, a 46-year-old Argentinean who has forged a reputation as one of the most innovative thinkers in football. “He joined Spurs at the same time as me, so we have been on a four-year journey together,” Dier says. “He gave me lots of opportunities, but he also has a method. A lot of teams change their style depending on who they are playing against. Pochettino has us playing the same way, so other teams have to adapt to us. He praises us if we play in the right way, even if we lose. And sometimes, when we win, he won’t be happy if he thinks we haven’t played in his style. He is not just looking at results, but how they’re achieved … I think Pep Guardiola [manager of Premier League leaders Manchester City] is a lot like that, too. He has a system, a philosophy, and it is a powerful way to approach the game.”

I wonder about the England dressing room. It must, by definition, lack the cosmopolitan atmosphere of club football that he has been talking about. And what about the cohesion? Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Rio Ferdinand have famously talked about cliques in the England team, and how many players of their generation tended to put club above country. In an era of multinational professional teams, and the potential for seven English teams to be competing in Europe in any season, the allure of international football must surely have waned, if not in tournaments themselves, then in the qualifying games in Montenegro or Belarus or friendlies such as last week’s 1-1 draw with Italy. He reveals that part of the way the national side has tried to address a potential lack of spirit has been imported from the Spurs changing room.

“We had this game at the Euros that we’d started playing at Tottenham and Kyle Walker then brought to the England set-up. It is a game where everyone has to talk about themselves. Everyone opened up and you could find out about their life and perspective. We call it Werewolf. It is one of the small things that can help to break down barriers.”

Given the current political climate, they are going to need Werewolf and a lot more to pull together in what is bound to be a particularly hostile environment for the England team and its fans during the World Cup in Russia in June. Assuming, that is, that there isn’t a boycott before then. Unsurprisingly, Dier won’t be drawn on the politics of the international game, and for once falls back on the more predictable footballer clichés of his forebears.

“It’s obviously a big talking point politically at the moment. However, as players, all we can do is focus on the job and let the FA handle those matters.”

When I ask about his political affiliations more generally, he says, “I like to debate politics, but I don’t feel there is one political party that represents my views.”


As Dier gets up and shakes my hand, I find myself reflecting, once again, on the schism between perception and reality when it comes to a new generation of footballer. Some are, of course, like the tired caricature, but the majority are bright, determined and highly professional. “Hard work should be a minimum,” Dier says. “Why do something if you are not going to put your soul into it? That’s one thing I can say with certainty. Whatever happens in my career, I will always have the satisfaction of knowing that I did everything in my power to maximise my potential.

“I am focused on football, which is the way it has to be if you want to reach the top. But it is nice to have interests beyond the white lines, too. Mum has always been obsessed with me having something else to occupy my mind. You train in the morning and come home in the afternoon and then have a long period of time when you don’t have much to do. So, it’s important to be stimulated. I read books. I like art. Going to galleries and exhibitions is a terrific way to switch off.” When I ask after his favourite artist, he immediately says “Rothko”, the abstract expressionist who was strongly influenced by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. “I love his work.”

Eric Dier is a global ambassador for Braun

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jurgen

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Sounds like a cool guy.. hopefully he won’t want to leave London and all its culture then :cool:
 

thelak

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Football has come a long way from the days when Graeme le Saux used to be mocked for reading the Times!
 

haslemereyid

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What a great interview such a different perspective - puts Eric in such a good light although I am pretty certain he is not the norm
 

Woodyy

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Awesome, I'm pretty sure there was an interview of his posted a month or so back which was along the same lines, he definitely not an idiot. I think most of our players come across as pretty intelligent when interviewed.
 

cider spurs

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Feck's sake. Don't ever ask Merson to interview him, he's not built for intelligence his brain will blow.
 

bceej

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Football has come a long way from the days when Graeme le Saux used to be mocked for reading the Times!
I think people have attributed it to football but it has been pretty rife throughout British life for some time. Glad we've got some thinkers on our team, and hope that's the culture that is being fostered at the club.

Lukaku completed the equivalent of A-Levels before moving IIRC, graduates of La Masia have to complete their A-Level equivalents. Not only enriches their understanding of the world but gives these kids something to fall back on if football doesn't work out.
 

Ghost Hardware

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After reading this i really can't imagine him and Dele hanging out and being best buds. Regardless, I adore Rothko so the guys got good taste.
 

littlewilly

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All the threads converge to suggest that he (they) might want to stay in London.
 

bceej

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After reading this i really can't imagine him and Dele hanging out and being best buds. Regardless, I adore Rothko so the guys got good taste.
Think Dier will have been a very good influence on Alli. Agreed on Rothko by the way.
 

King of Otters

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Very bold usage of the 'one' pronoun there, Eric. Not sure I'm entirely on board with it, but good luck to you.
 

Dougal

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Well, I looked up ‘polyglot’ so now I’m off to the ‘TIL’ thread.
 

NinjaTuna

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Seems like a good bloke. I'm glad i support a team that isn't just filled 100% with money-obsessed gonks
 
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