- England’s Eric Dier moved to Portugal aged seven
- He is a product of the fabled Sporting CP academy
- The Three Lions need three points against Slovenia to reach Russia 2018
Eric Dier is something of a rarity: an England international raised outside of the English system. He has emerged from the elite Sporting CP academy that produced the likes of Joao Moutinho, Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo, and his Portuguese education shows in his playing style. He is unruffled on the pitch, tactically flexible, and treats the ball with the care and attention his Iberian upbringing has taught him.
Dier exudes that relaxed atmosphere off the pitch, meeting FIFA.com with a smile and laughing as he recalled his first days in the fabled Sporting academy, having moved to Portugal with his family aged seven.
“I barely spoke any Portuguese at the time,” Dier smiled. “I was an English kid in the middle of a completely Portuguese environment. It was very difficult. There were times when my mum and dad had to throw me over the fence to go and practice because I didn’t want to. After a short while I was fully integrated and Sporting were very welcoming of me as well, which made it easy.”
Picking up the language came naturally to Dier once he started playing football with the locals, and from there his progress was exponential.
As Dier developed into his late teens, his father noticed something the family had perhaps not expected from an ‘expat’. The young Eric was comfortable, perhaps overly so. A six-month loan move back to England saw a 17-year-old Dier turn back the clock, to become the ‘foreigner’ once more in Everton’s youth side.
“That time was very important,” Dier reflected. “I was young and I’d only known Portugal really. I needed to be outside of my comfort zone. I’m very thankful to my father. I was a little boy when I went there, and I came back a man.”
Six months turned into 18, before Dier, the man, walked back through Sporting’s doors, ready for the ‘B’ team, and even the first team. The country of his birth had taken note, and Dier was drafted into the England youth setup.
The 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey, where England failed to emerge from the group - “any kind of tournament experience is positive” - proved a steep learning curve, alongside John Stones and Harry Kane. By this time, interest in Dier was hotting up, and Sporting did well to keep hold of him until 2014, when he made his big move to Tottenham Hotspur.
Dier’s ‘clutch’ England goals
26/03/16: Injury-time winner against Germany in his third cap
11/06/16: Stunning free-kick against Russia in England’s UEFA EURO 2016 opener
04/09/17: Equaliser against Slovakia at Wembley in FIFA World Cup™ qualifying where England went on to win
Perhaps oddly, this is where Dier’s relationship with his current England manager begins. Wanting time to find his feet back in the country of his birth, a mutual decision was made after discussions between the Spurs man and Gareth Southgate – then in charge of England’s U-21 side – to omit him from the U-21 squad.
“I’m very grateful that Gareth was able to see where I was coming from and what I needed at the time,” Dier said. “I think he brings a great understanding of the game and footballers as individuals. He has his ideas and the way he wants things to be done and I think the players are really embracing that. We’re just really looking forward to what the future might bring.”
The immediate future for Dier, Southgate and the Three Lions, is focused firmly on Slovenia. Three points at Wembley on Thursday against Srecko Katanec’s side will see England qualify for Russia 2018 atop Group F. When our discussion turns to this, the relaxed Dier becomes infinitely more focused.
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) 4 September 2017
“Individually, and as a team, we have to approach every game with the mentality that we’re going to win it,” Dier said. “I’m never ever going to go onto a football pitch and not want to win the game, so this is no different.”
And if they are to reach Russia? Dier’s concentrated tone remains.
“I think the best attitude to have with something like the World Cup is that game-by-game mentality,” Dier said. “All your focus is on one game, and then onto the next. If you start to think too far ahead you can lose yourself.”
With talk of the World Cup, the relaxed reminiscing Dier returns. He remembers his earliest World Cup memory: watching Ronaldinho lob David Seaman as an eight-year-old in a sports club on the Algarve. Dier will be hoping he can blend those two things, his Portuguese upbringing and the memory of the Three Lions’ recent World Cup woes, to bring England success in Russia next year.
— FIFA.com (@FIFAcom) October 2, 2017
As a person, in life, I’ve had to adapt to a lot of different environments, I think that’s perhaps taken form in my football. I think I’ve had a really rounded footballing education.
You spend so much time together that there are only benefits really that you’ll get on the pitch. I think there’s definitely a great atmosphere within the camp with England that I think has been growing and growing for a while now since I’ve been in the England squad – not just because of me! [laughing].
If they’re willing to go abroad somewhere with an open mind and are willing to embrace a different culture and environment then I think it’s something that they should really consider. It’s not easy. From my own experience, I really do respect people that do it.