Eric Dier discusses his grassroots story: From Cheltenham to England international...via Portugal
'No matter where you are, I feel like the basis of football is always down to your attitude and commitment and what you’re willing to give to it. That doesn’t change anywhere'
I was born in Cheltenham, but I actually grew up a bit in the middle of nowhere, where I guess the nearest town would probably have been Horsham and was not too far from Brighton.
My first memories of football are just playing in the garden at home with my friends and my two brothers. We were all very close in ages which was nice, as one is one year younger and the other is three years younger than me.
We grew up playing lots of sports together and all three of us were very competitive. That was always within us, to compete among ourselves and it still is. I consider myself extremely competitive and to be honest I like being that way.
I used to love playing football in England, especially when it was raining and muddy. It was a lot of fun back then.
As a family we moved out to Portugal when I was seven, so I have much clearer memories of football from then really. I played in many different formats when I was there and I played for my first team when I got there, a team called Lagos. I then played at a sports club in that town and then I played at school too. I just played wherever I could.
A bit later, I went to a Portuguese school and started to play futsal, but I didn’t play too much of it.
Football is one of those great things that wherever you go in the world, it exists everywhere and people play for the enjoyment, the commitment, the attitude and the experience of playing and meeting people, making friends and the respect that you feel between people playing.
There’s so much that translates across wherever you are in the world. There are cultural differences on top of it but no matter where you are, I feel like the basis of football is always down to your attitude and commitment and what you’re willing to give to it. That doesn’t change anywhere.
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I would spend a lot of time at the sports centre where I used to play in Lagos when I was really young. I have so many great memories of going there and playing with my brothers with all the kids there. I still go back often, because it was a great thing to do as a kid and I enjoy going there.
All of my youth team coaches growing up, they had an impact on me in different ways. At every age, I would learn different things and there are times when you need to learn different things depending on your maturity and I feel I was very lucky to have the people that I did to see to that.
When I got into Sporting’s first team, there were coaches like Jesualdo Ferreira, who had a very big influence on me and helped me a lot in many different ways. It was tough love and that helped me a lot.
I’ve been very lucky as Leonardo Jardim came afterwards and even though I didn’t play as much, I still learned a lot about myself in that period.
And then I had Marco Silva for a little while and I really enjoyed working with him as well. It was a different style again, so I learned a lot during that time.
I was lucky to then work with Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham. I learned so much under him and I worked with him for the longest period of time and he had a big impact on me. He gave me my chance in the Premier League and I will forever be grateful for that and he developed me so much. I achieved so many milestones under him: my England debut, my Premier League debut, I played at my first major tournament with England under him.
Other than Pochettino when I first arrived at Tottenham, I think Antonio Conte has had the biggest impact on my footballing career. He has had a huge impact on me in every way: tactically, physically and mentally. There is so much he has taught me. There is so much tactically, I have learned so much playing within a different system. Tactically I have never prepared so well for every game or prepared so well for each opposition. He is meticulous in his preparation and that is something I have tried to let rub off on me.
When I was first called into the England teams at U18 level and beyond, I felt that compared to the others boys, when I was at Sporting they had such confidence in the way they develop young players and such belief that what they are doing is right that the belief translates to you, and you believe that you are at the best place possible for your development and that you’re going to make it as a professional footballer. They implement that on you because they have such belief in developing players. It brushes off on you.
When I was young, I was extremely proud, and still am, to come from Sporting and to have played for them. It was somewhere where they would give everything to your development and their sole aim was to get you into the first team and that was what the whole club was geared towards.
I think no matter what level you’re at in football, the player needs to feel that he has the confidence of the person that is in charge, such as the coach. That translates to the team, no matter what the level. You need to have complete trust in who is in charge of you and that they’re doing what’s best for you. But even with that, it’s also 50-50 as you need to give in order to receive.
One of the greatest qualities at Sporting at the time was that they would make you completely free to make mistakes. There was no pressure on those mistakes, they wouldn’t try and correct you themselves. They would let you make the mistake and then they would let you figure out for yourself how to fix that so it wouldn’t happen again. That creates a footballing brain in your own head, so you don’t need anyone to tell you that you made a mistake. You know, and you know what you need to do to fix it. You build up a better footballing IQ that way, and I think that was one of the best traits I got from Sporting.
When I look at Spurs and the academy there, I feel like they do a fantastic job with the young players in every respect. The most important aspects for me are respect, liberty and working hard and they implement those traits really well at Tottenham.
There’s also been a lot of very good young players who have come through the ranks and there’s a lot of good young players who come and train with us and every year there seems to be more and more, so Tottenham are doing a very good job in that regard.
When I think back to my overriding memory of grassroots football, it is just fun. I think back to school and hearing that lunchtime bell and running down to the pitch just to play for an hour and coming back into class just drenched in sweat. I loved playing football with that feeling and I try to hold on to that feeling now.
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