‘Antonio Conte changed everything’: Eric Dier explains how manager’s passionate play woke Tottenham up

Eric Dier admits there have been times this season when, in the past, the Tottenham dressing room would have felt like the start of the apocalypse.

The defeat at Burnley, to begin with, after which Antonio Conte threatened to walk away. Losing to Arsenal is always a killer. Beaten at home by Manchester United.

That’s what we felt in the past. He did that last season, Dier says, when they topped the table in September but conceded a late equalizer against Crystal Palace and were beaten by Liverpool three days later to drop to second.

Tottenham’s progress under Antonio Conte since November has been remarkable

“It was like the end of the world,” says Dier. “Sometimes you have results and you look at the table and it looks so scary. You don’t realize that you just need to find that emotional balance and consistency because things are changing.

And how things have changed. Tottenham head into the final day knowing that a point against relegated Norwich is all they need to secure Champions League football. How far that felt when they lost at Turf Moor. “We learned from last season where these results felt like the end of the world,” says Dier.

“It’s something we’ve improved on. You’re going to go through tough times, but keep going, get through it and you can find yourself in the position we’re in right now.

The Italian has fostered a new mentality, which could finally dispel the old label

The Italian has fostered a new mentality, which could finally dispel the old ‘Spursy’ label

“If you compare that Liverpool away game from last season where they scored late from a free kick to win and Liverpool’s away game this year [which Tottenham drew 1-1]it shows the progress.’

This 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 what has changed?

“Everything,” says Dier. “As soon as he arrived, he changed everything. There’s a different work ethic in the building. There’s a different discipline in the building. He has an incredible experience. You feed off of his personality, his confidence in his work, his beliefs about how he wants things done.

It’s more than ketchup bans, intense practice sessions, or tactical meetings poring over microscopic details.

Tottenham need just one point against relegated Norwich to secure Champions League football

Tottenham need just one point against relegated Norwich to secure Champions League football

“I feel like people like this story,” adds Dier. “Training is 100%, meetings 100%, games 100%. But what surprised me, because of the narrative everyone is creating around him, is that outside of that, he’s very approachable. It’s easy to talk to him. He likes to laugh. Work is work, but outside of that it’s different. As a player, it’s something very pleasant to work on. Coming in and working at the intensity that we do, for me, that’s nice.

Dier is reaping the benefits. He thinks it’s the best he’s ever played for Tottenham. A year ago he was dropped from England’s Euro squad and claimed he was often the scapegoat for Spurs’ poor performances. But Dier does not want to look back.

“It was hard to maintain [my mental stability], I’m an emotional person,” he says. “I don’t really want to go back to last season. Here we go. In some ways having these things happen is good for you. It’s very cliché but they make you stronger.

It’s hard, though, to always be in the spotlight. “Everyone’s point of view is different,” says Dier. “For someone who hasn’t played football, especially in the times we’re in now – social media, mobiles, that sort of thing – I think it’s that generation of footballers who are the first to go through something like that. I don’t think players from the past can even relate to what it’s like now.

Tottenham manager also likes to laugh with his players, says defender Eric Dier

Tottenham manager also likes to laugh with his players, says defender Eric Dier

“I’m going to feel pressure in certain situations, and feel the scrutiny, and people who aren’t in my shoes will say, ‘Why? You have a good life. You make a lot of money”. But that’s from perspective. I can’t try to understand anyone else and I don’t expect anyone else to understand mine.

On Sunday afternoon, this pressure is simple. Don’t lose the game and you’re back in the Champions League. Dier says competition wasn’t even on their minds when Conte took over. For a while, however, 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. That’s where we players want to be.

And if they succeed with this new mentality, maybe the old “Spursy” label can be put aside once and for all? “Yeah,” Dier said with a weary sigh. “But I see other teams going through situations and there is no word for them. We can get rid of it tomorrow and next year we will have a result and it will be back. He will always be there.’

He also knows how people will describe him if they can’t get anything from Norwich and Arsenal sting them to death. They will only have one word to say it. “Yes, but we have to take advantage of this pressure. Use this pressure as a wind in our backs rather than in our faces.