England Euro 2020 squad reaction: What next for Eric Dier after his omission?

England squad
(Image credit: PA Images)

Eric Dier sat out the battle of the Bens. It was inevitable that Gareth Southgate would have to dispense bad news to a centre-back or two before he announced his England Euro 2020 squad on Tuesday and it must have amounted to a nervous day for Ben White and Ben Godfrey. 

Dier’s own hopes had ended earlier. He contrived to get culled from an England squad as it was expanded, which no other fit player was. He wasn’t in Southgate’s initial 33; that contained six centre-backs even without Joe Gomez, who would have slotted into a position in the top three of the pecking order had his season not been curtailed by injury. White and Godfrey were nods to the future, one with a solitary season in the top flight, the other having spent much of his campaign as a full-back. They are part of an emerging group of defenders, along with Fikayo Tomori, Marc Guehi and Ezri Konsa, who could provide John Stones and Harry Maguire with greater competition before and after the World Cup. In the short term, there was a great case for picking Michael Keane or James Tarkowski.

Dier’s descent meant that each felt a more appealing option. He had become unselectable. He was omitted for Ryan Mason’s last game in charge, at Leicester. Two of his last three outings consisted of him getting run ragged by his striking equivalents, the men at the margins of Southgate’s squad. He was caught flat-footed by Patrick Bamford when the quick-witted forward nipped ahead of him to score for Leeds (and then exposed, isolated and floundering against Raphinha and Rodrigo, for United’s third goal) and then unable to halt Ollie Watkins when he scored for Aston Villa.

The warning signs were there. Dier was the only outfield player not to get a minute of action in England’s three March games. Southgate can be brutal in a mild-mannered way, but he can also be a loyalist. Dier was responsible for one of the most symbolic moments of his reign, with his penalty shootout winner against Colombia, and feels the sort of person he wants in a tournament squad; Southgate has been the back-up centre-back who didn’t play and, in Dier, Tyrone Mings and Conor Coady, had three who seemed the ideal characters for the role, if not necessarily the perfect players.

There was evidence that Dier had become an unfortunate case of nominative determinism. He struggled against Romelu Lukaku in October’s win against Belgium; he was wretched in the rematch when Belgium won in November. It has been a season of struggle; his crisis of confidence has been part of Jose Mourinho’s legacy. Daniel Levy, the supposed master of the deal, must wish that when Mourinho’s Manchester United were interested in Dier, Spurs could have banked £50 million.

But there is also an enduring question as to what Dier is. He had asked both Mauricio Pochettino and Mourinho to play at centre-back and, since Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg arrived, there is no doubt who Spurs’ finest defensive midfielder is. Yet as a centre-back, he lacks both any outstanding attribute or the error-free excellence to make him a bastion of reliability.

His finest form as a central defender came in 2016/17, under Mauricio Pochettino and has part of a trio. But that reduces the amount of one-on-one defending. Dier has been less convincing in a duo. England’s spring switch of formation may have counted against him, but his performances were a greater case for omission. Perhaps Maguire’s injury was a factor, too: England’s reserve centre-backs may end up playing much of the tournament. But it leaves his career at a crossroads, with Tottenham requiring a manager and an upgrade at centre-back and a host of newer options emerging on the international stage. But at least he, and England, will always have Colombia.

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SQUADS Euro 2020 squads: Every confirmed team for the 2021 tournament

ENGLAND The big takeaways from the final team announcement

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Richard Jolly

Richard Jolly also writes for the National, the Guardian, the Observer, the Straits Times, the Independent, Sporting Life, Football 365 and the Blizzard. He has written for the FourFourTwo website since 2018 and for the magazine in the 1990s and the 2020s, but not in between. He has covered 1500+ games and remembers a disturbing number of the 0-0 draws.