What is a throwback in football? It’s Vinnie Jones, breaking legs and taking names, or Terry Butcher wearing his heart on his sleeve (or bloodied bandage on his head). It’s your black boots wearing, no-nonsense rock. It’s the proper football bloke’s favourite type of player, nothing like those overpaid pansies today, eh? It’s those special few that Graeme Souness, Tim Sherwood and Jamie Redknapp deem worthy of the ‘proper throwback’ title. Except it’s not so special. In fact, it doesn’t really exist.
Sadly, for the bastions of British football knowledge over at Sky, the game has moved on. You can’t slide in with a ‘reducer’ after ten minutes of a cup final any more, Vinnie. That’s not to say the good old days weren’t good. It’s still depressing to see a fully grown man fall down holding his face in ‘agony’ after a light tap on the neck. But there’s also little value in craving a return to the age of hard-men, leg-breakers and short shorts. This is what the game is now and your dad has to accept that he’s seen the last of football ‘when it was played by real men’.
That’s why it would be lazy to label Eric Dier a throwback. He throws himself late into tackles and is the first on the scene whenever a flare-up occurs, but that doesn’t place him in the box of an archetypal ‘80s tough guy. He’s certainly different to most other players these days and so perhaps he shares more similarities with Graham Roberts than most. But he’s just Eric Dier, not pretending to be anyone else.
Another one of those pundits’ favourite cliché’s has been Tottenham’s soft underbelly – this one is sadly quite accurate. That’s why it’s doubly invigorating to have a bit of nastiness, some bite, in the team. Danny Rose, Jan Vertonghen, Érik Lamela and Dele Alli all get involved, but Eric Dier is the leader.
He should’ve been sent off at home to Arsenal last season and got away with double attempted murder at Stamford Bridge. He gives his all for the shirt and his teammates, willing to do anything to avoid defeat and refuses to allow his team to be bullied like they may have been in previous decades.
His roughness on the pitch is matched by a sharp tongue that pays little attention to media training. If Dier has something on his mind, he won’t hesitate in expressing it. Although his threat to Ander Herrera has been met with much mockery, it’s still refreshing to see a footballer say what he’s actually thinking, rather than the usual repeated rhetoric.
Last season, he was also surprisingly candid about the media’s criticism of Tottenham – ‘I don’t like it – and the other boys don’t like it’. That was probably the point where he changed from the man who scored the winner at West Ham on his debut, to a favourite, the beautifully bitter voice of the fans. We don’t like it either Eric, now go and show them. It’s us against them.
Dier is often quick to turn the spotlight on himself too. He’s been very openly critical of his early season form and it’s clear that he’s desperate to rediscover his own high standards. This self-expectation only heightens the admiration. He doesn’t like it when his club is attacked from outside, but he also doesn’t look for excuses. It seems Dier says all the things that fans crave in players when they hark back to years gone by.
And yet this is not some clever façade, not an attempt to be a fan’s favourite by appeasing their desires, as Dier is not afraid to show off his other side. It’s easy to forget he’s still a young man, just 22 years old, and the only reminder is perhaps the glimpses of Dier’s immature side off the pitch, on social media.
The love/hate relationship with Alli is a joy to watch. The pranks and dancing and giggling make you realise that despite everything that surrounds football now, these are still just young men growing up and having fun doing it. These brief insights into Dier’s amusing friendship and dry wit only makes him more endearing.
That’s why he’s so universally loved at Tottenham. It’s not because he harks back to the days of Jones, Butcher and Roberts. It’s because he is himself in the here and now. The tough-tackling, sharp talker when business is involved; the happy, funny young man when away from it. He’s Eric Dier and he’s a little bit different. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
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