All managers have their favourites. Arsene Wenger had Thierry Henry at Arsenal, Rafa Benitez had a soft spot for Fernando Torres at Liverpool and Cristiano Ronaldo called Sir Alex Ferguson his ‘father in sport’.
In Jose Mourinho’s 20 years in management, he’s forged some special relationships with stars like Ricardo Carvalho, John Terry and Samuel Eto’o. Coming up to his one-year anniversary at Tottenham, it’s already becoming clear who he gravitates towards the most.
Mourinho spelled out his connection to Eric Dier after he raced into the home stands to defend his brother from a supporter after a row following a FA Cup loss to Norwich in February. Dier was penalised by the FA for his conduct and handed a four-match ban, with Mourinho quickly coming to his defence.
Jose Mourinho and Eric Dier have formed a close relationship since being united at Tottenham
Mourinho leapt to his player’s defence after he jumped into the crowd earlier this year
‘I think Eric Dier did something that we professionals, we cannot do, but in these circumstances, I think everyone of us would do,’ Mourinho said.
‘He’s a top level boy. He’s one of these guys that looks older than he is, the way he thinks, you can see the example that he is at the social level, you can see his profile even socially without being married with kids, he looks really a family stable guy, very easy to communicate with and it’s not because he speaks perfect Portuguese.’
As Mourinho takes his Tottenham team to Old Trafford on Sunday, it’s hard to forget how he hoped to build his Manchester United empire around Dier.
His attempts to sign him for the Red Devils are no secret – the pair even upset former Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino by chatting at length after United beat his side in the 2016-17 season, with Dier admitting they had been ‘in constant dialogue all week’.
Mourinho tried to sign Dier when he was Manchester United boss and saw him as a leader
Much has been made over Mourinho’s failures with United and how he he struggled to sign a reliable centre back – a leader to push the team forward. It was arguably one of the factors that led to him being sacked in December 2018.
Now he’s finally got his man, and he’s wasted no time showing how important he is to the team. In recent years Dier was transformed into a defensive midfielder by Pochettino but Mourinho vowed to gradually revert him back to his preferred position of centre back upon his arrival at the club.
Even during lockdown, when players were forced to undergo training sessions from home on Zoom, Mourinho was still dedicated to working with Dier on his transition and gave him the nod in the position when the Premier League restarted.
‘During the period when we were just working on Zoom and when the players came back to the training ground, even during the period of individual work, we were totally focused on the direction of (him) being a centre back,’ he said this summer.
Now Dier is Mourinho’s first choice centre back after reverting him back from central midfield
‘He’s doing very, very well. We look forward to next season when we have no doubts that he’s a centre back and going to be an important player for us.’
He was as good as his word and now Dier has managed to oust Toby Alderweireld and become one of the first names in Mourinho’s back four.
The 26-year-old has already played five games this season, including two in the space of four games as he played the full 90 minutes in both a 1-1 draw with Newcastle and the Carabao Cup penalty shooutout victory against Chelsea last week.
‘What happened to Eric Dier is not normal,’ he said after the Chelsea game. ‘I have to praise him in a special way. It should be forbidden for a player to play two games in 48 hours at this level. What he did is not human to do.’
Dier has played nearly every game this season after ousting Toby Alderweireld in the back four
That game also saw Dier bizzarely leave the pitch in the second half to use the toilet, with Mourinho chasing after him to hurry him up. Leaving your side with 10 men in such a crucial match would normally result in stern words from your manager, but – just like after the incident against Norwich – he received the backing of the boss.
‘He had to go [when he ran off] – he had no chance. Maybe it is a normal thing when you are completely dehydrated which is the case. I had to put pressure on him to get back but he is a great example for everybody. If the authorities don’t care about players, I care.’
If you’ve watched Tottenham’s All or Nothing documentary you’ll be perfectly aware of Mourinho’s desire to change the mentality at the club, shifting their attitude from being ‘a group of nice guys’ to being a ‘bunch of c****’.
‘What I’ve been gathering basically is that it’s a team that is too nice,’ Mourinho tells his assistant manager Joao Sacramento in the show. ‘Even in competition they are too nice. Nice boys. They say Dier is the only guy who likes living the conflict during the game.’
Dier sums up the tough mentality Mourinho hopes to install and even though Spurs are blessed with both the England and France captains, the manager still sees Dier as one of his skippers.
Mourinho said Dier is a key leadership figure despite having Harry Kane and Hugo Lloris
Dier sums up the ‘tough’ mentality Mourinho is trying to install after arriving at Tottenham
‘Of course he is [a leader], he is one of the captains,’ Mourinho said. ‘To wear or not to wear the armband in a certain match is not the most important thing. A team needs more than one leader.
‘When I keep opening the door for a certain kind of leadership that I want, with time, he’ll feel with more confidence and with more freedom, he can exert that leadership.’
This week Dier explained his Portuguese connection with Mourinho and how his arrival ‘reminded me of where I came from’ after going through a difficult spell under Mauricio Pochettino and falling down the pecking order.
Their Portuguese link is bringing them closer together and helps the pair to communicate
Spurs fans will have been surprised to hear the pair speak fluently in the language in the Amazon documentary and it adds another layer to their relationship, especially as Mourinho was someone Dier idolised as a boy growing up in Portugal.
‘I am really enjoying it,’ he said after Mourinho’s appointment. ‘Enjoying playing, and I feel with every game I am getting better and better. We have spoken a lot – both in English and Portuguese! His mentality appeals to me and it is special.
‘Having grown up in Portugal, to go from what he was doing at the time to now be playing under him is very special. I was a kid at the time but he was a very big thing, so it is special to be working for him.’
When Mourinho first came to Spurs, centre back was a position of concern – with stalwarts Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen both set to leave on free transfers. While the former signed a new deal, the old guard is gone and now Dier is leading a new revolution.