Versatility in football can be both a blessing and a curse. Being able to play in more than one position would, on the face of it, appear to increase a player’s chances of being selected in the starting XI, but it can also prevent him from nailing down a fixed slot in the team.
Eric Dier is an example of an individual who has grown accustomed to moving around the pitch. After spending a chunk of the 2014/15 campaign – his first at Tottenham Hotspur – at right-back, the England international became a regular in central midfield the following season, before frequently switching between the engine room and the heart of the backline last term. He has continued in the same vein this time around, with Dier even fulfilling both roles in the same game at times – including in the 3-1 triumph over Real Madrid in the Champions League last week.
The 23-year-old, who was heavily linked with a move to Manchester United in the summer transfer window, began Tottenham’s meeting with the European champions in midfield, but an injury sustained by Toby Alderweireld midway through the first half forced him to move deeper in the pitch. Dier performed well as Tottenham recorded a famous victory, and was again impressive in the narrow 1-0 defeat of Crystal Palace on Sunday afternoon.
Mauricio Pochettino’s men were far from their best at the weekend; in many ways, they were fortunate to collect all three points against Roy Hodgson’s charges. Spurs did, however, record a sixth clean sheet of the Premier League season, with Dier – stationed in the middle of a three-man backline, with Davinson Sanchez to his right and Jan Vertonghen to his left – central to their defensive efforts. He was also key as the hosts built possession from the back, making more passes (82) than any other player on the pitch.
In terms of his adaptability, Dier himself is keen to focus on the positives. “Positionally? There’s so much we could talk about,” he told The Sunday Times in a recent interview. “The first thing I want to get across is that versatility, for me, is never a negative. Especially if you’re a young footballer where the most important thing is to play as many games as possible and learn.
“Secondly, I hate the word ‘utility’. That word just kills me. In the book [Brave New World: Inside Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs ] the manager touches on it. When we had those conversations, I said that playing as defensive midfielder had given me so much more than playing as centre-back. I’d make my England debut there, had a really good season for Tottenham there.
“But he said to me a very nice compliment, that I could go on to be the best centre-back in the country. And I believe that I can be. I believe I can be the best centre-back in the country and I believe that I can be the best defensive midfielder in the country. That’s why I hate the word ‘utility.”
Dier continues to show his quality in both roles, which is why he is such an important cog in the Tottenham machine.