18-year-old Eric Dier, a former Everton loanee, made his first appearance for Sporting Lisbon at the weekend, having been at the Portuguese club since he was nine. Could he end up at Manchester United?
Sporting's youth academy is notorious as one of the best in Europe, having turned out international stars like Nani, Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo. The most recent graduate of their system is a young English defender called Eric Dier, who picked up his first clean sheet in his first game for Sporting on Saturday, and even set up the goal in his side’s 1-0 win over third-placed Braga.
Dier may be known to some English fans as he spent a period on loan at Everton recently, before returning to Sporting in the search for first team opportunities. With the Sporting manager saying that Dier took his chance well at the weekend, he may now get plenty of chances in Portugal, and Everton may end rueing that they didn't give Dier those opportunities themselves.
But it is only right that Dier makes an impression in Sporting first, having worked his way through the youth system since joining the club in 2003. Dier has captained several sides in the Sporting youth system, and is now turning out regularly for the England U19 side too. Despite interest from Portugal, Dier has stated he wants to represent England on the international stage.
Dier signed his first professional contract with Sporting in 2010, and there was interest in the player from several English teams then. Everton and Manchester United have continued to track Dier's development, and his emergence in the first team will undoubtedly turn plenty more heads.
Manchester United have a long term relationship with Sporting, having signed Ronaldo and Nani from them in the recent past, and with Ferguson reportedly on the lookout for long term fixtures in his defence, the club may now begin stepping up their interest in Dier.
English players abroad are still viewed as a rare curiosity, something particularly true of players who rise through the youth ranks in another country. Dier has had the benefit of being part of one of the best youth systems in Europe, with his time at Everton adding experience of English football to his development.
As such it may be viewed as simply a matter of time before he returns to a Premiership side, but given his success in Portugal, that may not be the case. However if he does opt to return to England, there will be a host of teams interested in his signature, though I wouldn't bet against Manchester United leading the charge.
image: © goulao