Opinion: Eric Dier – The latest victim of social media narratives

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Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Dom Le Roy

The power of narratives in shaping people’s opinion cannot be underestimated.

If the last decade has thought us anything, narratives reign supreme over facts when it comes to discourse on politics and culture, and I would argue the same is true across every domain including football.

Given people’s shortened attention spans, asking them to base their opinions on actually watching football matches is clearly too much to ask for.

So it is not all that surprising that people take the easier route of seeing opinions on social media that confirms their pre-existing biases, take it as gospel and decide that is the hill they want to die on.

Just ask Harry Kane how difficult it is to overcome false narratives despite repeatedly proving himself at the highest level.

From being called a one-season wonder, tap-in and penalty merchant, flat-track bully, past his best, and injury-prone, he has had various acquisitions levelled at him and has proceeded to dismantle every single one.

However, there are opposition fans who will never change their minds about Kane being ‘overrated’ despite considerable evidence to the contrary because let’s face it, few possess the humility to question their deepest held beliefs.

Given the tribal nature of football and the social media generation’s obsession with proving they “know ball”, once narratives are formed about certain players, they are extremely difficult to overcome.

That brings me to the subject of the article – Eric Dier – who is now the latest victim of false narratives.

The defender completed 250 appearances for Spurs this week, not an easy feat given that we have been a Champions League outfit for the majority of his time at the club.

Yet, if one is basing their opinions of the 26-year-old from what is said about him on social media or what pundits say, they could be forgiven for thinking that Dier is one of the worst defenders in the top-flight who is “stealing a living” as a footballer.

One often sees posts like the ones below about the England international:

https://twitter.com/EveOrEvie/status/1324369264263024640

It is pretty clear that people who spout these opinions have not actually watched Dier play on more than a handful of occasions.

The image they probably have of Dier in their heads is the player who played through injury for Spurs and England during the last two years in a position that he never truly saw as his natural one.

In fact, even some Tottenham fans, who presumably watch the 26-year-old week-in, week-out, have major misconceptions about him as a player, simply because they decided he was not good enough due to his struggles in midfield (after 2018) and are not willing to change their minds.

So, the purpose of this article is to dismantle popular misconceptions about the former Sporting Lisbon man.

The most prominent one is that Dier is not good on the ball. This critique usually comes from people who fail to recognise that the reason he seemed sloppy on the ball when he was playing in midfield, is not due to a lack of technique but due to a lack of awareness.

For Dier, who played as a defender all through his youth career, to suddenly be asked to do a job in midfield in the most fast-paced and competitive league in the world, is no easy task.

Yet, he took to the position really well and was one of our best players when we pushed for the title in 2015/16.

Where he was found wanting is having the ability to receive the ball in tight areas and having the awareness to turn away from trouble.

Even when he was playing in the middle of the park, his choice of passes and his decision making were rarely wrong when he was facing play instead of playing with his back to goal or on the half-turn.

So, it is not surprising that he now seems confident on the ball again after moving to centre-half as he has the game in front of him.

He has repeatedly showcased an ability to drive into space with the ball from defence and while he might not possess an Alderweireld-esque ping (few players do), he is capable of switching play with both feet like few other central defenders in the division.

The second big misconception about Dier is that he is not blessed with pace.

Some reports indicated a few weeks ago that Jose Mourinho has made up his mind to avoid a centre-back partnership of Toby Alderweireld and Eric Dier at all costs due to the pair’s lack of recovery pace.

Unsurprisingly, the report turned out to be baseless, with Mourinho starting the pair in all of Tottenham’s last three Premier League games.

This idea that Dier is slow presumably comes from the centre-half’s running style which is certainly not the most elegant.

However, not only is he quick when he gets into his stride but his acceleration off the mark is excellent for a 6’2, 90 kg unit.

In fact, I would even be willing to bet that Davinson Sanchez (who some Spurs fans view as being really quick) would not get the better of Dier in a 10m-50m race.

Don’t take my word for it. Just look at how shocked Moussa Dembele was when he was informed in a Soccer AM segment back in 2017 that Dier is the slowest player at the club, according to FIFA stats:

Here’s what Dier had to say about people’s perception of his pace (Spurs TV):

He is not wrong, is he?

Putting his pace and ability on the ball aside, even his biggest critics cannot deny how powerful and dominant Dier is in duals, both in the air and on the ground.

His stats this season when it comes to defensive duals, certainly back that up.

The question marks that remain about Dier are his occasional lapses in concentration and his ability to read danger.

Unsurprisingly, both those parts of his game have seen a marked improvement now that he is getting readjusted to the position again, having not played in central defence consistently for many years.

If you are one of many who does not rate Dier, perhaps it is time you tried to put your bias aside and watch him with fresh eyes.

May be… just maybe.. Mauricio Pochettino and Jose Mourinho know a bit more about what makes a top defender than you do.

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