Eric Dier has been England's best player and it's not even close
Despite occupying possibly the most unfashionable position on the pitch outside of goalkeeper, Eric Dier has been England's best player in Euro 2016. And it's not even really close.
The defensive midfielder carried his fantastic club form for Tottenham Hotspur straight into the national team. He's been the foundation upon which England has stood, helping carry them through to the knockout rounds, despite finishing second in the group behind upstarts Wales. Dier's quiet confidence in the middle of the field, his brilliant reading of the game, and intelligent distribution have made him the most important player to England, and the rare player who makes everyone around him better.
MARSEILLE, FRANCE - JUNE 11: Eric Dier of England scores his team's first goal from a free kick during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group B match between England and Russia at Stade Velodrome on June 11, 2016 in Marseille, France. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
While captain Wayne Rooney has shown well, and Daniel Sturridge has been a spark every time he's stepped on the pitch, it's been Dier who really holds this team together. Alongside Chris Smalling, Gary Cahill and Joe Hart, Dier has played every single minute of this tournament, with England leaning heavily on his calming influence in midfield to help steady the ship as they navigated the treacherous waters of Group B.
Dier bossed the midfield in England's opening match against Russia, even netting their only goal from a spectacular (and spectacularly rare) howitzer of a free kick. After an average game by his high standards in England's second match against Wales, Eric Dier took on more of a playmaker's role from his deep-lying position against Slovakia. Dier completed 93.1 percent of his 102 passes, stroking the ball around with the poise and confidence one would typically expect from Rooney and Alli, who started from the substitutes bench, or even Jack Wilshere, who showed poorly in his first start of the Euros as the Three Lions struggled to a 0-0 draw.
Over his three matches for England in this tournament, Dier's attempted 79.7 passes per game and recorded a fantastic 89.5 pass-success percentage. Patrolling the area in front of his back four, Dier's averaged 1.7 tackles, interceptions and clearances each match to keep England from conceding more than the miserly two goals they have thus far. Beyond the numbers though, his discipline, intelligent distribution and decision-making has been crucial for England, especially given the presence of his more adventurous rotating cast of midfield partners.
Defensive midfielders rarely get the plaudits, and it's easy to see why. Their job is to clean up after teammates' mistakes, and then award the ball back to the same players they've just rescued. It's a thankless task, and there are few in the world who have the mentality, intelligence and maturity to perform in the position consistently.
What Dier does isn't complicated, and, outside of his fantastic pile-driver against Russia, it isn't flashy or spectacular. Dier does the simple things, and he does them to perfection. He's just 22 years old, but mature beyond his years and his performances as England's sole holding midfielder have been exemplary. Constantly cleaning up after his teammates, time and again Dier has been the one to recover possession for England, quashing attacks before they can develop, and setting the Three Lions on the counter with a well-timed pass.
England manager Roy Hodgson's team selection has come under fire throughout the Euros, and even after three matches his best 11 is still a question mark. With a multitude of players underperforming (See: Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane) and the proper midfield combination still unknown, Hodgson has his work cut out moving forward. Thankfully for Hodgson though, Dier's fantastic form makes him one less issue for England to worry about.
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