Whether he travels to Qatar or rushes into the crowd, Eric Dier believes he carries his principles with him. A recall to England comes at just the right time for a footballer who believes he’s in the shape of his life and a thinker who wants to understand what’s at stake in the World Cup host country. “From my perspective, wherever I go in the world as an individual, I’m going to carry the same values no matter where that is,” he said.
You can be a man of action as well as words. His insight into fan misbehavior and bullying of players’ families stems from personal experience. He is the grandson of Ted Croker, a former Football Association secretary, and was banned by the FA for four games in 2020 for venturing into the stands to defend his brother, Patrick, when he was insulted by Tottenham fans.
“I was not happy at all with the way it was handled,” he said. “I don’t know what I can say about it because I don’t know if I will be banned or fined again. But I don’t regret it at all and I would do it again. [For] my family, my teammates, anyone, a friend of mine. I consider myself extremely loyal.
If there is a widespread feeling that crowd problems have become more frequent and more unpleasant after the lockdown, dier agrees. That’s why his mum won’t go to Tottenham games on the road. “It definitely got worse,” he said. “For me it’s a serious problem. I had family and friends at Chelsea’s away game with Tottenham and they were having problems. Not friendly either. It’s a huge, huge problem. It was verbal, not physical, but bad.
“I never complain about stuff like that and it doesn’t really bother me. We played Burnley in the next away game after I went into the stands and the Burnley fans were singing a song to my brother and I like that kind of thing: I think it’s quite funny. I like that kind of humor. But there are things that I find very strange. It’s not good. My mother doesn’t hasn’t been to an away game. She would love to, but I’d be worried about that – and that’s crazy, isn’t it?”
If Louise Dier cannot travel to see her son play, she misses seeing a player experience a personal rebirth. Dier was a stalwart of England’s Gareth Southgate, the player whose penalty won the 2018 World Cup shootout against Colombia, but he lost his place in the squad ahead of Euro 2020, a troubled year accompanied by a drop in form as Jose Mourinho’s Spurs struggled and wondered. if he had an international future.
“Not going to the Euros…maybe at that time I didn’t know what would happen after that,” he said. Unlike some in his profession, Dier is into games. He saw a lot of Euro 2020, when England reached the final in his absence, and when his former team-mate Christian Eriksen almost died on the pitch in the colors of Denmark.
“To be honest, when I think of the Euros the first thing I think of is Christian,” he said. “I’ve been extremely lucky in my life because I’ve never really lost anyone close to me. It was just a really bad day. I was watching TV; I can’t really talk about it, man. It was hard.”
Dier’s on-pitch revival owes much to Antonio Conte; while England have adopted a three-man defence, he plays inside the Italian’s 3-4-3. “He is the godfather of this system,” he said. “I don’t want to sound like a teacher’s pet, but he’s done a lot for me. He had a great effect on me in all aspects: tactically, physically, mentally. I think I reached my best level in my career, not only this season but also last season.”
Dier may be the best centre-back in England – or certainly the fittest – now and yet he believes reports of his demise have been exaggerated. He opted not to look back on the darkest days under Mourinho – “I don’t want to go there,” he said – but reflected: “I think it was my toughest season when I I missed the Euros but I don’t think it was as bad a season as it’s supposed to be: far from close,” he explained. “I would be very happy to sit down with anybody and go over every game and then we could discuss it.”
Whether Southgate agreed or not, Dier remained in international exile for the better part of two years. He became a cause celebre among Tottenham fans as he remained stuck on 45 caps, incredibly close to a personal half-century. “When I wasn’t in the team, it was going through my head that I was so close to this. It annoyed me,” he said.
Now a player with the FA in his blood is about to get the kind of recognition that comes with joining an exclusive club, populated almost exclusively by the great and the very good. “I wish I could reach that kind of milestone,” he added. “I saw that they now have a board at the hotel reception of all the people who made 50 and 100. It’s a dream to be able to achieve that.” Go to Qatar and Dier will probably do it, and he will have gotten there on his own terms.