If the European Championships finally happen this summer then there’s a good chance a former Everton defender will be starting at centre-back for his nation. No, we do not mean the resurgent John Stones. Instead, we are referring to Tottenham Hotspur’s Eric Dier, a player who has rediscovered his best form under the guidance of Jose Mourinho.
It is a fact perhaps only immediately known to most Everton fans that Dier spent 18 months on loan at the School of Science. In fact, it will be 10 years ago this month that he arrived at Finch Farm for what proved to be a challenging but character-forming period in his fledgling career.
Cheltenham-born Dier grew up in Portugal, coming through the ranks at one of the nation’s premier teams, Sporting Lisbon.
But in 2011, he headed back to the UK and began a loan spell at Everton. It introduced a boy to the harder aspects of the professional game.
“My hardest times came before I joined Tottenham,” Dier told the Player’s Tribune in 2017. “At 16, there was a period when I went on loan to Everton, and that was extremely tough for me.
“I moved on my own from Lisbon to Liverpool, and for the first six months I didn’t know what I was doing there — I felt completely lost. At that age, you doubt yourself. You give so much to football but you don’t know if it’s going to give anything back. It’s sort of a lottery.”
There is no doubt that Dier struggled at first to settle at Everton.
The switch from playing youth team football in Portugal, where the focus is on technique, passing out from the back and a slower more methodical game jarred with life in Everton’s academy.
Alan Stubbs was in charge of the under-21s back then. Speaking to the Liverpool Echo in 2017 the former Toffees centre-back spoke of Dier’s initial struggles on Merseyside.
“When he came, he was way off the pace because he had come from a really different culture,” Stubbs claimed. “He was brought up in London but had gone over to Portugal and was with Sporting and you could see that he was used to that slow tempo of football whereas here it was fast, frenetic and he struggled fitness-wise to start off.”
Yet there is no doubt that Dier improved during his time at Everton. Perhaps the club can take more credit for developing Dier than they first thought.
Stubbs continued: “It took us the best part of eight months to get him up to speed but you could see his game coming on 10-fold.”
Impress he did as Everton tried desperately to keep Dier on board.
David Moyes, Everton’s boss at the time, confirmed that his aim was for Dier to become a fully-fledged Evertonian.
“We wanted him to stay with us,” Moyes told the Echo after Dier left in 2012. “We knew he wanted to be in the first team, even though there would be little chance. Maybe (Sporting coach at the time) Ricardo Sa Pinto and Sporting have other plans for him.”
Stubbs, in the same 2017 interview, claims that Everton were simply priced out of a deal for Dier once Sporting’s asking rate went above £1 million.
The rest is history. Despite initially struggling upon his return to Sporting, Dier began to excel under the management of a bright young Portuguese coach who recognised the value of Dier’s blend of continental style and English tenacity. That talented rookie was Marco Silva, a future Everton boss.
It led to a return to English football with Tottenham Hotspur where he is now a major player under Mourinho and the same can be said of his status in Gareth Southgate’s England group.
There’s no doubt that Everton will be disappointed they never tied up Dier on a permanent deal. His value now is certainly much higher than the £1 million which had the far less fiscally promiscuous Everton of 2012 so spooked.
But if Dier can help lead Spurs and England to glory in the coming years at least Everton can take comfort in the fact they played a role in shaping this combative Premier League star.