Eric Dier needs to back up his fighting talk on the pitch

Believe me, after enduring over a year of ‘mentality’ discourse when Jose Mourinho was in charge at Tottenham, I am sick to death of hearing about such narratives and tropes.

But it’s not a meaningless aspect of the game. A similar level of mental strength is needed among all top athletes to get to the pinnacle of sport, and that eliminates any differential, but there are a few little nuances that show what sort of character a player is too.

Eric Dier is someone who stands for what he believes in – he’s been outspoken on social issues before and has helped create an app – but the one thing he believes in more than anyone else is Eric Dier.

He backed himself to make the transition from midfielder back to defender, and he’s backing himself again to stay there after a year of intense scrutiny from fans, a season littered with errors.

“I think they have seen it [the best of him] in periods,” Dier told the Evening Standard. “I’ve got mixed emotions towards it really. At times, I feel like it [the criticism] is a bit unfair. Sometimes I’ve made a mistake or something has led to a goal and one mistake is talked about like it’s four or five. I’ve felt that at times.

“As defenders, you’re always going to make mistakes and the most important thing is how you react to them. I think fans have seen what I can do in glimpses, especially at the beginning of the season. I think I had a very good first six months and it dropped a little bit for a few games. But I feel like I’ve been back to a good place for a couple of months now.

“It’s just the narrative I see that is painted of me. It doesn’t really bother me too much. I just think it’s a bit unfair. It’s football. I just need to worry about myself and keep trying to do better. But I’m my own biggest critic and I know where I can improve and when I can improve.”

Eric Dier
Get someone who defends you the way Eric Dier defends Eric Dier | James Williamson – AMA/Getty Images

The modern age of football and social media means players are under the microscope more than ever before, open to criticism from anyone on the planet with a stable internet connection. Footballers have long been accustomed to bat away inflammatory remarks that when they do retaliate, it’s seen as aggressive. How dare they try and defend themselves.

For Dier to continually come out and defend his very meme-able team, defend his very meme-able performances does take strength and resilience above that of the average athlete.

And he is, in part, right. Defenders will make more costly errors than anyone else, and Spurs have have invited such heavy pressure on themselves all season that they were bound to be breached. Despite that, they have the joint-fifth best defensive record in the Premier League.

However, it isn’t too much to ask Dier to display a level of competence and consistency that doesn’t continually bring about such huge question marks over his abilities, either.

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Dier formed a great midfield partnership with Mousa Dembele | OZAN KOSE/Getty Images

Dier has never been the most technically gifted (despite some assumptions that growing up in Portugal would make him England’s answer to Sergio Busquets). His exploits in midfield were usually covered up by the brilliance of Mousa Dembele, but he’s had nowhere to hide at the heart of a back four.

He can’t break the first line with a decent pass enough for Spurs to be a truly progressive team, and he doesn’t have the defensive instincts for them to be formidable at keeping the ball out of the net. Dier is but one name amid a long line of English centre-backs that are ok, but that’s their ceiling – would Ezri Konsa, Lewis Dunk or James Tarkowski look any worse at Tottenham?

Part of playing for a big club is the intense pressure that comes with it, and Dier is yet to prove that he can handle it as a senior figure in the squad. By all means he can come out swinging and insist he’s doing a good job, but as the last fortnight has taught us, the fans’ opinion is what matters – they decide your legacy.

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