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Can Eric Dier turn over a new leaf?

Dier has never exactly dazzled, but there’s potential—if minor—for a new chapter in his career.

Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea - Carabao Cup Fourth Round Photo by Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images

There’s a lot to love about Eric Dier. Barbers can’t find a haircut that doesn’t make him look handsome. His bromance with Dele Alli suggests that he’s a lovely person off the pitch. He has a fiery side that led Mourinho to comment that among a team of “nice boys,” Dier is “the only guy who likes living the conflict during the game,” yet he also ran to comfort Mason Mount after Chelsea lost out to Spurs on penalties in the League Cup last month.

Charming qualities aside, however, a professional footballer’s job is to win matches. Earlier this year, Dier made clear that he favors center back as his position in the long run, and he now has a golden opportunity to make the case that he’s good enough to play the role for Tottenham. Fresh competition for a starting spot seems unlikely after the international transfer window closed without a central defensive singing, and at the moment he appears to have usurped Toby Alderweireld as the player of choice to pair with Davinson Sanchez.

Spurs supporters could be forgiven for being unenthusiastic about the prospect of Dier as first-choice center back. He has played in the role off and on over the years with hardly outstanding results, and with a general consensus that his midfield talents do not match the heights to which Tottenham Hotspur now aspire, there is little reason to hope that one of Spurs’ most lovable players will suddenly become one of their best upon assuming starting defensive duties.

However, life is dull without improbable hope, and there are reasons to believe that a kind of comeback story is on the horizon for Eric Dier. In November 2019, he opened up about ill health that dogged him for the better part of a year after he was incapacitated by a perforated appendix in December 2018. Before that mysterious setback, Dier seemed to be on his way to new heights, starring for England in the World Cup and featuring regularly for Tottenham through the fall of 2018. Recovering from a sustained disruption like that takes time, and perhaps it earns him a bit of benefit of the doubt for weak showings over the last two years.

Now, nearly 27 years old (6 months younger than Harry Kane), Dier is entering his peak years under the guidance of a manager who, shortcomings aside, certainly knows how to set up a defense. Dier and Mourinho have a special connection, and with Mourinho’s emphasis on a fighting mentality as well-suited to Dier as Dier’s physical strength is to Mourinho, each seems destined to intensify the other. Couple Mourinho’s guidance with the opportunity of regular game time, and it’s reasonable to hope that Dier will develop into a viable starting option, if not a world-beater. After all, central defense depends on experience and shared positional intuition between the paired defenders, and we haven’t seen yet seen Dier play in a regular pairing for an extended period of time. Stranger things have happened than a player’s mid-career ascendance in a new role under a new manager.

This is not to say that Spurs fans should stop worrying about a shaky center back pairing in a team that looks pretty solid everywhere else, only that there’s reason not to write off Dier yet. I suspect few fans will jump for joy at the thought of Eric Dier, Starting Center Back, and I myself would have been happier if the title had gone to Milan Skriniar. But this is the position in which we find ourselves, and as a Tottenham optimist, it is my duty to throw out some aspirational ideas to occupy the pessimists. Have at them.