Sporting defender Eric Dier discusses his breakthrough season with the Portuguese club.
Eric Dier moved to Portugal to join Sporting's academy at the age of 10 and signed professional terms six years later. After spending time on loan at Everton, he made his Sporting debut last season and went on to play 15 league games for the club. Adam Bate met up with Dier in Turkey, where the 19-year-old defender is busy representing England at FIFA Under-20 World Cup, to find out more about his experiences in Portugal...
Tell us a bit about what has been a breakthrough season for you...
I was in the B team at the start of the year but then got to make my debut in November because of injuries and suspensions. I did well and just kept my place. It feels really good, to be honest, as i wasn't expecting it. I got my chance, took it and never looked back.
That debut was against Braga wasn't it?
Yeah it was a big game to make my debut in so i was happy with that - especially to do well too.
And then you scored in the very next game...
Yeah, I got an assist in my first game and a goal in my second - it went pretty well at the beginning!
Then there was a game against Benfica in the Estadio da Luz. How was that?
That was my best sporting experience up to now really. Playing in front of 62,000 people in the biggest game of the year for Sporting was special for me and the best moment so far.
Playing against some pretty good players too...
Well there's a whole list of them. Benfica have Ezequiel Garay and Nemanja Matic, who is a really good player at the moment. Their whole front four are very good as well. Then at Porto there was James Rodriguez and Fernando in midfield. It was nice to play against all of those players.
Sporting are going through a tough time financially but that's contributed to your opportunity...
Financially it is hard everywhere in Portugal at the moment and Sporting are struggling with that. But it is a great opportunity for the young players and Sporting has got a fantastic academy with some really talented young lads. You hear about me and Bruma and Tiago Ilori but there are loads at the academy who - if they get their chance - will take it as well. So it is a great time for all the academy players and they should all be working hard to try and get into the first team.
That first-team experience must have been great preparation for the Under-20 World Cup with England?
It's prepared me really well. I mean, to play against those players in those sorts of games is a great experience for any young player I think.
Do you get the chance to go back to England much?
Normally I take advantage of international breaks. I ask Sporting for a couple of days either before or after international weeks in order to spend some extra time with my family and they have no problem with that because there are no games around those international breaks. They've been really good with that, letting me go home and see the family as if you go a long stretch without seeing them it's not very nice.
You did enjoy an extended period back in England when you spent the 2011/12 season on loan at Everton. How did you find that?
It was a shock to me at the beginning. Everything is different really - the way you are coached, training, matches etc. So it was a bit of a shock to the system and took me a good six months to get used to it. But after that I thought i got the hang of it. It's really helped me in terms of playing for England because it has helped me get used to a different atmosphere.
And helped in terms of going back to Portugal a better player?
It's different. In England, there's just an honest physicality. Whereas in foreign countries it is not so honest. People are dirtier, you know what I mean? There's just that different kind of physicality about the two leagues. For example, in England the forward will jump for the header with you but in Portugal they'll be niggling around you and trying to keep you on the ground - not even looking at the ball.
How about being on the ball as a defender - Do you feel playing in Portugal has helped you improve that side of the game?
Oh yeah. We've worked on that ever since we were very little. It's all about possession and keeping hold of the ball. I'm just used to that because that's what I've grown up doing.
So do you think British players should consider playing abroad like you have in order to develop their game?
I grew up in Portugal so it's easier for me. It's home for me really as that's where I've lived all my life. Off the field is just normal life to me. All my friends are there. If anything my culture clash comes when I go back to England but then that's easier because I am English!
But I think the culture is the bigger thing than the language. The language is important for the basics but you don't really need it for the football side. There are players at Sporting who have come and don't really speak Portuguese but they pick things up, Language isn't really a barrier, to be honest. It's just the culture and the attitude - the way people handle themselves is different.
Football-wise though, I think it is great to come and play abroad. It makes you a more complete player in my opinion.
And your hopes for next season?
Next season i really just want to confirm myself as a main fixture in the starting eleven. I want to play as many games as possible and experience those big games that I did this season all over again. I want to keep playing and keep getting better.