Eric Dier admits there have been moments this season when, in times gone by, the Tottenham dressing room would have felt like the beginning of the apocalypse.
The defeat at Burnley, for one, after which Antonio Conte threatened to walk away. Losing at Arsenal, that is always a killer. Beaten at home by Manchester United.
That is how it felt in the past. It did last season, says Dier, when they were top of the table in September but conceded a late equaliser against Crystal Palace and were beaten by Liverpool three days later to drop into second.
Tottenham’s progression under Antonio Conte since November has been remarkable
‘It felt like the end of the world,’ says Dier. ‘At times, you have results and you look at the table and it looks so scary. You don’t realise you just need to find that emotional balance and consistency because things change.’
And how things have changed. Tottenham head into the final day knowing a point against relegated Norwich is all they need to secure Champions League football. How far away that felt when they lost at Turf Moor. ‘We learned from last season where those results felt like the end of the world,’ says Dier.
‘That’s something we’ve improved on. You are going to go through difficult moments but just keep at it, get through it and you can find yourselves in the position we are now.
The Italian has fostered a new-found mentality, which could finally dispel the old ‘Spursy’ tag
‘If you compare that Liverpool away game from last season where they scored late from a set-piece to win and the Liverpool away game this year [which Tottenham drew 1-1], it shows progression.’
That progression under Conte has been remarkable. They were ninth when he took over in November. Since then, only City and Liverpool have taken more points than Spurs. So just what has he changed?
‘Everything,’ says Dier. ‘From the moment he came in, he changed everything. There’s a different work ethic in the building. There’s a different discipline in the building. He has incredible experience. You feed off his personality, off his confidence in his work, off his beliefs in how he wants things done.’
It is more than just the ketchup bans, the intense training sessions or the tactical meetings poring over the microscopic details.
Tottenham just need a point against relegated Norwich to secure Champions League football
‘I feel like people love that story line,’ adds Dier. ‘Training is 100 per cent, meetings are 100 per cent, matches are 100 per cent. But what surprised me, because of the narrative that everyone creates around him, is that outside of that, he’s very approachable. It’s easy to speak with him. He likes to have a laugh. Work is work, but outside of that it’s different. As a player, that’s something very enjoyable to work under. To come in and work at the intensity we do, for me it’s enjoyable.’
Dier is reaping the benefits. He believes this is the best he has ever played for Tottenham. A year ago, he was left out of England’s squad for the Euros and claimed he was often made the scapegoat for Spurs’ poor performances. But Dier does not want to look back.
‘It was difficult to maintain [my mental stability], I’m an emotional person,’ he says. ‘I don’t really want to go back to last season. It’s gone. In some ways, having these things happen is good for you. It’s very cliched but they make you stronger.’
It is tough, though, always being under the spotlight. ‘Everyone’s perspective is different,’ says Dier. ‘For someone who hasn’t played football, especially in the era we are in now — social media, mobiles, that kind of thing — I think it’s this generation of footballers who are the first to experience something like this. I don’t think players from the past can even fathom what it’s like now.
The Tottenham manager also enjoys a laugh with his players, says defender Eric Dier
‘I’m going to feel pressure in certain situations, and feel scrutiny, and people that aren’t in my shoes will say, “Why? You have a great life. You make lots of money”. But it’s perspective. I can’t try to understand someone else’s and I don’t expect someone else to understand mine.’
On Sunday afternoon, that pressure is simple. Do not lose the game and you are back in the Champions League. Dier says the competition was not even in their minds when Conte took over. For a while now, though, it has been an ambition.
‘For me, for the players and for the club, it’s important to be in the Champions League. It’s so important because with the infrastructure we have, with the new stadium and the training ground, we should be in the Champions League. It’s where we as players want to be.’
And if they make it with this new-found mentality, maybe the old ‘Spursy’ tag can be cast aside once and for all? ‘Yeah,’ says Dier with a weary sigh. ‘But I see other teams go through situations and there isn’t a word for them. We can shake it off tomorrow and then next year we’ll have a result and it will be back. It will always be there.’
He knows, too, just how people will describe it if they cannot get anything from Norwich and Arsenal pip them at the death. They will only have one word for it. ‘Yes, but we’ve got to enjoy that pressure. Use that pressure as a wind at our backs instead of in our faces.’