Those who have read Guillem Balague’s new book “Brave New World: Inside Pochettino’s Spurs” know that it touches on a number of incidents that took place over the course of the 2016-17 season that were until recently only in the realm of rumor and conjecture. One of those was Manchester United’s supposed interest in signing midfielder Eric Dier, and a souring of relations between Dier and Tottenham Hotspur manger Mauricio Pochettino.
Now Dier has opened up about that incident in a new interview with Jonathan Northcroft in the Times of London. The full article is paywalled, but in it Dier says that the experience is water under the bridge for both himself and Poch, and reasserted that their relationship has never been better.
For context, first here’s an excerpt from Balague’s book, where Pochettino discusses an tunnel incident between Pochettino and Mourinho after a match between Spurs and Manchester United last December.
Mourinho and I had just finished our interviews at Old Trafford and the players were doing their warm-down on the pitch. When José was done with the press, he stood by the entrance to the tunnel and regarded the returning players. He greeted Sissoko and hugged Dier. They passed by me en route to the dressing rooms, laughing and speaking in Portuguese. Maybe it’s a common Mourinho tactic, but he put Eric in a compromising position. You can’t do that after a defeat. ‘Are you friends with Mourinho?’ I asked him.
‘No, but I’ve known him for a long time, from my time in Portugal . . . One of his godsons coached me. He always says hello to me.’
... I sat down with Eric after lunch on Monday and we chatted for four hours about the whole shebang: his agent, family, confusion. As for the Mourinho incident, ‘What could I have done?’ Eric asked me. He told me about United’s interest since last summer and I explained the situation to him clearly. ‘Look, you aren’t leaving because you signed a five-year deal with us in August. You’re among the highest-paid players at Tottenham at the age of 22. You’re important to us and you could become the best centre-back in the Premier League.’
— Guillem Balague, Brave New World: Inside Pochettino's Spurs (pp. 152-153). 2017, Orion Publishing Group.
Refreshingly, Dier’s interview is just as honest and forthright as Pochettino, and his account corroborates what Poch says in his book. Dier acknowledges that there was a period in which some frustrations bubbled over in the course of a difficult and long season, but took great pains to emphasize that this was what happened was closer to an argument between family members than evidence of a lingering discontent or a deterioration of their relationship. The incident in the tunnel with Mourinho, he said, just made things come to a head.
“What needs to be clarified is that this is something that happened last Christmas. The book is a very honest account, and it’s nice for fans to have that insight about what goes on, that it’s not all lovey-dovey, but context is important. This was last Christmas. The book has come out now, so it has resurfaced, but for a long time my relationship with the manager has been great. It’s always been very good. Obviously, you can’t see eye-to-eye on everything, but if anything our relationship is stronger for what we went through together.”
“I grew up in Portugal. Portuguese people are very proud and it’s a small country. It doesn’t have the economic power of a country such as England, so people like Mourinho, Ronaldo, they’re extremely proud of it. Growing up there I was within all that, you know? I didn’t want to be disrespectful to anyone. I completely understand where the manager was coming from but I believe I was stuck in the middle of something I couldn’t really affect.”
Dier was clear that, despite rumors at the time and in the ensuing months that he had his head turned and wanted a move to United, that wasn’t the case. He notes that he was frustrated with his own performance at times last season, but pins the responsibility for his play on himself, with exhaustion over a long season, a summer at the Euros, and a very short offseason break.
He is, he says, very happy to be part of the Tottenham project.
“I’ve always been so happy at Tottenham. There have been moments like January built out of frustration but never a period where I wasn’t happy. I say it to friends and family, that I think it’s very difficult to be in a group like we have here where — and every single word of this is honest — I don’t have a single problem with one player in the dressing room. And that’s true of the whole team. We really connect as individuals. It’s something special because it happens so rarely in football and that’s one of the reasons why I’ve never thought of leaving.”
Football clubs are by nature secretive organizations. It’s one reason why thinks like transfer rumors and stories about player motivations and relationships with management are so enticing to the general public: they give fans a peek behind the curtain at what really goes on at their favorite club. And sometimes those stories aren’t what they want to hear.
It’s particularly nice to have a first-hand account of a season like what Balague and Pochettino released, but it’s also really interesting to see the additional context of hearing from the other side. Dier’s account of his relationship with Pochettino is obviously based on mutual respect, but Dier doesn’t shy away from noting that in football, as in life, sometimes there’s conflict.
If nothing else, this account from Dier should alleviate many of the concerns fans have had about Dier’s motivations, and whether he has his head on straight. It sure sounds like he does, and his performances this season suggest that he’s a player that is happy where he is, and where he’s going.