After several weeks in which the transfer rumours seemed to go quiet, it appears that Manchester United have renewed their interest in Eric Dier. And though Tottenham have made it clear they are not prepared to sell the England defensive midfielder, the club might find it difficult to hang on to him.
First, there is the question of the transfer fee. As they have already proved this week by acquiring Everton’s Romelu Lukaku for a price in excess of £75 million, United have extremely deep pockets and aren’t likely to be put off by what might appear to other clubs to be a prohibitive price tag. While Manchester City are having second thoughts about buying Kyle Walker for £45m, their rivals wouldn’t think twice about paying the £50m — or possibly more — that Tottenham would demand for Dier.
Much as Spurs might want to retain Dier’s services, there might come a tipping point at which Tottenham decides to take the money. With building costs at the new White Hart Lane reportedly heading toward the £900m mark — well above the initial estimates of £550m — Spurs are not cash-rich at the moment. So passing up the possibility of making a near £50m profit on a player they bought for just £4m from Sporting Lisbon three years ago could prove irresistible.
What could clinch the deal is that Dier himself is thought to be keen on a move to Old Trafford. For one thing, he could double — or even treble — his wages at United, but more importantly he would be guaranteed to play in his favoured position. When Dier moved to Spurs, he was originally brought in as a central defender who could also double up as a replacement right-back for when Walker was injured. Dier made an immediate impression by popping up in the West Ham penalty area to snatch an injury-time winner at Upton Park on his debut.
But with Tottenham’s acquisition of Toby Alderweireld two years ago to this day, Dier found his prospects limited, and manager Mauricio Pochettino had the idea of moving Dier to play just ahead of the back four as the defensive midfielder. Initially, it looked to be a misjudgment on the part of Pochettino, as in the early games of the 2015-16 season Dier was often caught out of position and the Spurs’ defence looked anything but watertight as players adjusted to the new formation. But after 10 games, the decision looked inspired as Dier and Spurs went from strength to strength. Pochettino had given Dier a new dimension to his game.
Then, last summer Tottenham acquired Victor Wanyama from Southampton, and it was a case of two into one don’t go. Wanyama started the season in better form and gradually made himself the starting XI’s first-choice defensive midfielder. Pochettino was unwilling to leave someone as talented as Dier on the bench and came up with the idea of playing him alongside Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen as a central defensive back three, leaving Walker and Danny Rose — up until the time he got injured and was replaced by Ben Davies — to play as more advanced attacking wing-backs.
The results of the 2016-17 season proved just how successful this formation was. Tottenham not only achieved their highest top-flight finish in more than 50 years (second place) but also became the Premier League’s top scorers with 86 goals while conceding just 26 goals — seven fewer than the champions, Chelsea. Yet Dier was not entirely happy. No matter how well he fit into a central back three, he still saw his future further forward as a defensive midfielder. That’s the position where he instinctively felt most comfortable and, equally importantly, it’s the position he has played for England’s national team.
In any possible move to Manchester United, Dier has been given a guarantee that he will be played in the position he likes best. And that — along with the increased salary — could be crucial for Dier as he sets out to cement himself in the England starting XI for the World Cup in Russia next summer. In Dier’s mind, there is little advantage in playing different roles for club and country. And even the most die-hard Spurs fans who would be reluctant to see him leave have to concede he has a fair point.
So if United are as serious as they appear to be, Spurs might be better off accepting the cash rather than holding out. Keeping a player whose heart lies elsewhere is always a high-risk strategy — not least because prolonged transfer rumours have an unsettling effect on the squad — and £50m would represent a fair return on the club’s investment. For that money, Spurs could have their pick of most central defenders and still have plenty of change. It may not be what Spurs or the fans ideally want, but it could be the pragmatic option.