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Page last updated at 06:32 GMT, Thursday, 14 October 2010 07:32 UK

Given a Sporting chance

By Jonathan Overend
BBC Radio 5 live Sport

Eric Dier
Dier's dream is to play for England

Eric Dier, one of the brightest talents in English football, has the unusual distinction of playing his football abroad but hopes it will not affect his chances of playing for England one day, his lifelong dream.

The 16-year-old centre-back, who is 6ft 2in tall, is based at the famous Sporting Lisbon academy, the breeding ground of players like Luis Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani.

Just starting to come to the attention of the English Football Association, Premier League clubs and the wider British public, Dier features in a special report on BBC Radio 5 live Sport on Thursday from 2000 BST.

His family moved to Portugal when his mother, who works in mass catering, landed a job working for the 2004 European Championships.

Then, after moving from the Algarve to Lisbon, Dier's PE teacher at school put him in touch with Sporting scouts, who liked him immediately. He has been affiliated with the club ever since and earlier this year signed a professional contract.

He has the chance to apply for dual nationality when he turns 18 but, should the chance arrive, he would dearly love to play for the country of his birth - England.

"For sure," he told me. "I think it is the dream of any kid to play for England and play for your country."

Has there been any contact about getting involved in England's Under-17 team?

"No, not that I know of, not yet," he responded. "I'd love to go and play in the youth set-up of England."

Sporting has a great history of bringing players up to play in the first team and go on to play in great clubs in Europe

Eric Dier

Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham are among the Premier League clubs already thought to be monitoring Dier's progress.

But the youngster seems perfectly happy at Sporting and, in keeping with the philosophy of the academy, wants to see out his junior days at the club before thinking of a move.

"I love the training, the Portuguese people, the Portuguese culture," he said. "Everything about this place I like.

"I've never seen the need to move from Sporting to anywhere in England or any other country because Sporting has a great history of bringing players up to play in the first team and go on to play in great clubs in Europe.

Sporting Lisbon

"People tell me about players who have gone to places like Arsenal and Chelsea and had to come back looking for clubs because they've got nowhere to play."

One of the Sporting coaches tells me about the time, five years, when Chelsea called wanting to sign three young Portuguese academy players.

The two who decided to go have since left London and are playing in the Portuguese third division. The one who stayed went on to play for the first team and now plays for Maccabi Haifa in the Champions League.

But what if Dier's childhood idols, Manchester United, started asking about his services?

"If the offer came today, I wouldn't say I'd take it because I'm not sure it's the right time," he insisted. "But if I cemented a place in Sporting's first team and felt I was ready, then it would be very hard to turn down".

Dier speaks with amazing maturity for a 16-year-old, thanks in no small part to Sporting and the way they try to bring up the kids in their academy.

They focus on individual development rather than winning games and do not chase success in youth cups. They want to process players for the first team.

Respect and discipline is key, as I found out on my visit. If a player messes up in school, he may be punished by being left out of the team at the weekend.

It may mean the team loses but club officials do not care. It is all about the long-term development of players.

There is also a sense of realism. Not everyone is going to become a Ronaldo or a Nani, so it is important players go to school every day, taking extra lessons if necessary from four full-time teachers employed at the academy.

Sporting do not want players ending up on the football scrap heap. It seems unlikely Dier will be one of those.

I asked Jean Paul Castro, technical director at the Sporting academy if the teenager has a big future in the game.

Castro, who has seen some great players go through his doors, grins and his eyes light up before he tells me: "I think so, I think so."

Listen to 5 live Sport's programme on the Sporting Lisbon Academy, featuring Eric Dier, on Thursday from 2000 BST.



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