Eric Dier has opened up on his switch to a centre-back role and the man-management skills of Jose Mourinho at Tottenham.
Dier has played much of his football for club and country in a defensive midfield position since signing for Spurs six years ago, but has returned to the backline over the past year – a position he believes is best suited to his talents.
The England international has revealed how he approached former manager Mauricio Pochettino with his initial request to play at the heart of the defence, playing the majority of his football in a deeper role at centre-back last season.
“I had a very honest conversation with Pochettino at the beginning of last season,” Dier told The Athletic.
“Because I had surgery in pre-season and missed all the pre-season. I went to see him, it was more about my position and where I was playing. We had spoken for many years about me gradually making that transition back to centre-back. For the last three years we’d had many conversations on it. And it was me saying to him: for me it was now. And if it wasn’t for him, we’d have to find another solution.”
“He was very happy. I went to him, made that decision, and came to him with a definitive statement. He was actually very happy with that. He told me: train hard, get fit, and then you know how I am, whoever deserves to will play.”
Dier says he held a similar conversation with Mourinho following his arrival at the club as Pochettino’s successor, admitting the Portuguese was happy to give the 26-year-old an opportunity to prove his worth at centre-back.
“I said to (Mourinho) that it’s very difficult for me, having made that commitment when Pochettino was there, to go back on it. Centre-back is where I see myself. He said ‘OK, prove it to me’, basically. He gave me my chance. And things have been going OK since then.”
Mourinho’s appointment in north London came as a surprise to many with the two-time Champions League winner taking his third Premier League position, and Dier has offered his insight on the ‘special’ man-management skills of the Spurs boss.
“To experience his man-management was something that people talk about a lot, if you listen to players he’s coached,” he said of the 57-year-old coach.
Jose Mourinho was born to be in football documentaries ? #AllOrNothingSpurs
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“To experience that first hand is quite special. He’s incredible in the way that he pokes you with his words to get the best out of you. He’ll say things to you and nudge you with things. It’s all with the idea of triggering you to want to do better. To want to improve or to prove him wrong.”
Mourinho’s motivational style can often border on tough love with criticism of his own players commonplace, including an occasion in which he told Dier – who had missed the previous four games after being banned for an incident in which he entered the crowd – that he had been ‘sh*t’ since returning from suspension.
Dier recalls the conversation and believes it was part of Mourinho’s attempts to get the best from him, providing the defender with a ‘kick up the arse’ ahead of the club’s final day fixture against Crystal Palace.
“You’ve been shit in training since your suspension. Do you want to play this weekend?” asked Mourinho. “Of course I want to play,” Dier replied. “Yeah, well you’ve been shit since you got suspended,” Mourinho said, before walking off.
“I felt like I knew what he was doing, he was just giving me a kick up the arse before the final game. That kind of things trigger you.”