Dier: I was ready to quit Spurs but Mourinho made a change

Eric Dier opens up on being ready to QUIT Tottenham before Jose Mourinho reinvented his game as a defender… now, ahead of the North London derby, he talks his second coming, 16-hour fasting habits and the creation of his new travel app

  • The last 18 months at Tottenham have been a mix of emotions for Eric Dier 
  • Dier reveals to Sportsmail he considered walking away from Spurs for good 
  • After a defeat to Chelsea, Jose Mourinho gave Dier his chance at centre back 
  • Dier explains how he has made an app, and fasts for 14 or 16 hours after a dinner

During the summer lockdown, Eric Dier took a look at his life.

‘Covid has been a once in a generation experience that will mark us all,’ the Tottenham star says. ‘And lockdown made us all sit down and face our decisions and choices we have made.

‘In terms of our job, house, wife, girlfriend, kids, dog — whatever it may be. Normally when you’re living your busy life you might not be happy with one part of it but everything else is going on around it and you can kind of leave the problem in the background. But with Covid, it was suddenly all there in front of you. You can’t hide from any of it.’

Eric Dier opened up to Sportsmail to discuss the past, present and what the future holds

Under Jose Mourinho, Dier has returned to his favoured position and is flourishing once again

Dier’s articulate view on one part of this dreadful year is taken from the American comedian David Chappelle. But the 26-year-old has fully bought in to it. During those long weeks of summer house arrest, he had a look around his life and was lucky enough to like most of what he saw. 

He tweaked a few things. Never a big drinker, he currently does not drink at all. There were other alterations, too, but they remain private.

More importantly, during the break in play, Dier was finally able to recognise signs of renewed happiness at work, at Tottenham.

For too long it had not been that way. A central part of Mauricio Pochettino’s side that finished in the top three of the Premier League in 2016, 2017 and 2018, Dier subsequently lost the path with his club and England.

There were several contributing factors. Recurring bouts of illness following an appendix operation two Christmases ago did not help, nor did contradictory opinions about whether Dier should continue as a central midfielder or revert to his favoured position of youth at the centre of defence.

The decline and marginalisation of a very good player was hard to watch. For Dier himself it was even harder to endure. Last season, one of the mainstays of England’s 2018 World Cup campaign did not play for his country at all and with his Spurs contract running down, he considered a change of club.

The past 18 months have been a whirlwind of emotion for the 26-year-old but he now has focus

‘That was definitely on my mind,’ Dier tells Sportsmail this week. ‘I didn’t feel like I was achieving what I wanted. When your contract starts to come to an end, you question if you’re part of the future. 

‘I had no desire to be at a club in the last year of my contract. The club knew the summer would see a decision made either way.’

There was no lightbulb moment for Dier, no obvious way out of the darkness. Instead, his road to a new future and the contract he eventually signed in July was marked with key staging posts, some of them unpleasant.

Most notable was an experience portrayed brilliantly and painfully by the much-discussed Amazon documentary charting last season at Tottenham. A largely whitewashed version of life at a big club, Dier has never watched it. 

But the series shows the moment almost exactly a year ago when the recently-installed Jose Mourinho hauled Dier off from his midfield position after 29 minutes of a Champions League home game against Olympiacos.

In the film, Dier does not look angry, disappointed or insulted by the decision. No, it goes much deeper than that. He looks utterly and agonisingly bereft, subsequently admitting he felt as though ‘my career was over’.

Dier does not hide from any of this now, a year on. ‘It really was one of the toughest moments in my professional life,’ he says.

Tottenham recovered to win the game and Dier started the next one but key to that night and all its ramifications was that Dier felt a little lost and not for the first time. Having told Pochettino and England boss Gareth Southgate that he wished to be a central defender, he realised that night in an empty dressing room that it was time to spell it out again.

‘The manager was completely right to take me off,’ he says. ‘I wasn’t performing. And we won the game. But having to take steps back from the commitment I had made to my new position at that time was very difficult for me.

Following a heavy defeat to Chelsea, Mourinho gave Dier his opportunity to shine in defence

‘I had played Pochettino’s last two games at centre back, so it was difficult to go back to playing in midfield again. I explained that to Mourinho. I said to him: “This is where I want to play. In defence”. But I knew it was a risk.’

Mourinho has always liked Dier. On arriving at Spurs following Pochettino’s sacking just a week before the Olympiacos game, the Tottenham manager told staff he was the only member of his squad with any ‘devil’ in him.

Nevertheless Dier started only five league games between then and a painful defeat for Mourinho back at Chelsea the following February. Dier was an unused substitute that day but another conversation ensued. This time it was instigated by the manager.

‘After Chelsea he came to me,’ says Dier. ‘He just said: “Ok if you want to play centre back, now is your chance. Show me”.

‘I thrived off that challenge. It was what I had wanted to hear. It was an opportunity. My main focus is always to be in a position competing to play. Feeling there’s a plan in place for me is important, too. They were the major factors in me deciding to stay here and I couldn’t be happier.’

Other benefits of the lockdown have come more naturally to Dier.

‘It also gave me the time to have a really good pre-season,’ he says. ‘And it gave me time to focus on what is really important. I felt as focused on football in a way I hadn’t felt since I was 19. That feeling is something I have done my very best to hold on to.’

The England international is a commanding presence and adds bite to the Tottenham ranks

Tottenham head in to Sunday’s North London derby with Arsenal as the team at the top of the Premier League.

It does not seem that long ago that Mourinho was telling his squad they were too nice to succeed. That is a subject Dier himself touched on in an interview with The Times two years ago.

So where are we with all that now? Are Tottenham still too nice to win? ‘Tottenham had that image for a long time,’ Dier says. ‘But we had done better with it. So last season was just a bump in the road. 

‘If I look back to the two seasons where we were competing for titles, there wasn’t anything nice about that team. That team was physical. It was dominating. It was very aggressive.

‘But yeah, there was a bump last season and there is space for improvement now. There is room for more grit, to be a bit less naïve. Sometimes we shouldn’t expect perfect, we should just get it done. But there has been a shift already. The team is ready to do things it was not ready to in the past. That’s important.’

If that kind of language sounds straight from Mourinho’s personal dictionary, Dier will not mind. Mourinho’s methods can often look a little joyless from the outside. Pragmatism is still not sexy. Winning is, though.

‘The manager carries a huge presence,’ Dier says. ‘His success in the game is something this club hasn’t seen so he carries a lot of weight. In the dressing room we’re all trying to get to the place where he has been before. And the truth is he is actually the first to be serious when it’s time and the first to have a laugh when it’s time.

Dier feels Spurs do not have an issue with being ‘too nice,’ but had simply lost their way

‘[Sergio] Reguilon has already said that. So I am stealing his line. But it is perfect because it’s exactly right.’

Dier’s relationship with Mourinho evolves. For all his progress, last season ended with his manager constantly telling him he had been ‘playing sh*t’. Dier laughs at this now. ‘Yeah, he does like to poke you,’ he says. ‘He knows how to get the reaction and enjoys the confrontation when things aren’t going well.’

Dier knows Tottenham could probably benefit from a little of the resolve and unwillingness to yield that Mourinho’s great Chelsea teams once had. He has spoken before of relishing games against Diego Costa because he knew the Spaniard would rile him sufficiently to release the necessary adrenaline.

‘I don’t mean to stoke any fires or anything,’ he adds. ‘But Chelsea has always been the one that gets me going. And then obviously Arsenal comes right behind that. The Chelsea thing goes back to my first season when they beat us in the Capital One Cup final. But I know what the North London derby means to the fans and to the club. It’s huge.’

Arsenal will arrive in a familiar modern muddle. Nevertheless, Dier was surprised to learn Tottenham have dropped 42 points against them from winning positions in the Premier League era. It is a record.

‘I didn’t know that but we’ve got to address every situation where we feel like it may have hindered us in the past,’ he says. ‘We need to break down those little barriers if we want to be successful’.

More palatable is the prospect of the presence of supporters for the first time since March. ‘Yeah, everyone in the dressing room is excited about that,’ he says. ‘It’s another difficult topic, though. I’m not a doctor but it does seem strange that the numbers of fans coming in are the same regardless of the size of the stadium.

‘It doesn’t feel like any scientific evidence has gone into making that decision, which is frustrating. But we’re happy with whatever we can get and it will be awesome.’

Dier takes care of himself with a strict diet and training routine, along with major meal fasting

Dier once told a club Q&A he would like to have been the first person on the moon. He is intelligent with an inquisitive mind, something he endeavours to keep a lid on as he navigates his way through his career.

‘I always make sure I have total respect for football so I have to control myself as there are quite a lot of other things I would like to do,’ he nods.

Recently he launched an app with his brother, Patrick. Called Spotlas, it allows users to follow recommendations of places to eat, drink and visit around the world. Unlike other platforms, the recommendations come only from friends, family and other people a user wishes to follow.

‘We want people to feel at home in any city,’ Dier says. ‘When people go to Lisbon where I started my career, they always ask where to go. We’ve provided a platform for that because if you know the person you know what their taste is and therefore have a better understanding of what a place might be. We launched it after the first lockdown and I’m really excited about it.’

Dier thinks he may well go into business when he retires. He has completed a year of a degree in social sciences, has an interest in architecture and has been learning Spanish.

His commitment to his own physical well-being sees him fast daily for 14 or 16 hours after a dinner eaten at 7.30pm – only water is allowed — and he keeps a record of it on a phone app.

Dier has now got himself back into the England fold and into Gareth Southgate’s (right) plans

‘Those apps are good as they hold you responsible,’ he smiles. ‘You can’t lie to them!’

He regularly tinkers with his lifestyle, trying one thing and sometimes moving on to the next. He laughs as he explains it but counters when it is suggested football needs more similarly rounded individuals.

‘I disagree with you in that I think there are a lot,’ he says. ‘They are in the shadows because the image of footballers is very distorted. Because a 21-year-old boy does something stupid — which is understandable — all the others pay for it.  It’s frustrating because if you come into our dressing room and you see the diversity and the players who are interested in all different kinds of things, you would be surprised.’

Asked to reflect on the calendar year, Dier puffs out his cheeks. ‘So much has happened it’s hard to remember when the year even started,’ he says. ‘So much has been terrible. I just hope some people have been able to re-set and find some good in parts of it. Like I say, it has marked us all.’

Football probably needs more like Dier. For him, it is enough just to know his club needs him again. So are we allowed to call this the second coming of Eric Dier? ‘Well, I’m happy to be on my way back to a place I want to be,’ he smiles.

‘The playing position had been a weight on my shoulders. But I believed in myself to change and from that point on, getting back in the team and then the England team have been milestones I wanted to achieve. Things can still go a lot better. But I am excited. I am happy with what I see.’

The Spotlas app is available from the App store.




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