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History repeats itself! Gary Mabbutt on Eric Dier, his England debut, Germany and Dier's year

Posted on 22 March 2017  - 11:00

Guess who? Highly-talented, versatile Spurs player, 21, a classic footballer who can play right-back, centre-back or in midfield, called-up for the senior England squad for the first time having impressed in the Under-21s.

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Of course, it’s Eric Dier.

Or is it Gary Mabbutt?

In fact, it’s both!

The similarities are uncanny.

Go back to October, 1982 and Gary, aged 21, was called up for his senior England debut for the friendly against West Germany at Wembley.

Fast forward from there to November, 2015 and Eric, aged 21, was called up for his senior England debut in the friendly against Spain in Alicante.

The perfect symmetry would have been if Eric had also earned his first senior cap against Germany but as we all know, he just waited for his third cap to face the Germans - and scored a dramatic late winner as England came from 2-0 down to win 3-2 in March last year.

It’s been a year since that dream night in Berlin not just for Eric, but also his three Spurs team-mates who also started that night - Harry Kane, who also scored, Danny Rose and Dele Alli.

As the Three Lions prepare to face Germany again this evening, this time a friendly at Borussia Dortmond’s Westfalenstadion, we took a trip down memory lane with ‘Mabbsy’, who went on to play 611 times for us between 1982-1998, recalled that first call-up back in 1982, his debut and gave his thoughts on Eric’s progress in the year between friendlies against Germany.

Below: Gary Mabbutt

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‘Everything happened so quickly’

Gary: “I joined Spurs in July, 1982 and made my debut in the Charity Shield against Liverpool at Wembley. A week later, I made my debut in the First Division against Luton and scored after five minutes! Suddenly, in the space of a month, I’d been elevated from playing in the old Third Division to playing for Tottenham Hotspur in the First Division and then in the October, I’d been selected for the full England squad! Three months after leaving Bristol Rovers, I was playing for my country against West Germany! Every youngster dreams of these things happening but in my case, it really did come true. I’d been in Under-21 squads when I was at Bristol Rovers but most of the players in the full squad I’d only seen play on TV!”

Below: Mabbsy on his England debut against Germany on the left, Eric in action in Berlin last year

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‘I would have played in goal’

Gary: “I was supposed to be making my debut in the centre of midfield but in training on the morning of the game, Viv Anderson, the right-back, got injured in training and Bobby Robson, the manager, asked if I wanted to make my England debut at right-back. Of course, I said ‘no problems’ so I made my debut at right-back up against Pierre Littbarski (a winger who had just claimed most assists in the 1982 World Cup Finals). I would have made my debut in goal if he’d asked me!”

Below: Mabbsy lines-up with England ahead of his debut against Germany - October, 1982

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Dream becomes reality

Gary: “Walking out at Wembley in your England kit, standing there for the national anthem, full stadium, it was an incredible occasion. Those are the games as a youngster you’d watch on TV and dream of playing in and suddenly there I was playing in it. West Germany had just lost to Italy in the 1982 World Cup Final that summer. They had a great side with Schumacher in goal and the likes of Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Lothar Matthau, the Forster brothers (Karl-Heinz, Bernd) and Littbarski. Rummenigge was probably the best striker in the world at the time. It was a massive game and I had quite a good debut working defensively and going forward. I had a left-foot shot from outside the box that came back off the post. I had a header that the goalkeeper saved and we scored from that corner through Tony Woodcock. I really enjoyed it, although we lost 2-1 in the end and Rummenigge scored twice.”

Below: Eric in action against Southampton on Sunday

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Dier’s year

Gary: “I see a lot of similarities between us in that he can play in a lot of positions and like myself, he can hold his place in three or four positions. He’s certainly got that ability. I was totally impressed when he went into that holding role in midfield. The way he read the game - when the full-backs went forward he filled in, he could cover all the areas – that  protection in front of the back four and he could get hold of the ball and make things happen. He made that place his own for Spurs and England. Of course, playing systems change and he’s now stepped back into a back three and again, looks very comfortable and he’s doing well there. The system allows Danny Rose and Kyle Walker to push on even more and of course, we’ve also the arrival of Victor Wanyama, who has done so well alongside Mousa Dembele. The competition for places is fantastic.”

Below: Eric celebrates his winner for England against Germany last March

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Much more to come

Gary: “The experience Eric has gained in the last year is there for all to see. When you play in other positions, you get that understanding of what players have to do in matches. When I first went into the England squad it was as a midfielder, I then made my debut at right-back, played in midfield and then at centre-half. Eric is still a young man and I believe the more experience he gains at club and international level, the more he’ll continue to grow in stature.”