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Kieron Dyer Interview

First appeared in the Sunday Times Sun 17.10.99

Dyer Earns his stripes 
on Tyneside

Sitting in the Portman Road dressing room, Kieron Dyer and his old Ipswich Town teammates used to exchange knowing smiles whenever the name Bobby Robson cropped up during their manager's pep talks.

"George Burley used to really go on about him. He said Mr Robson was his role model," said Dyer last week. "Now I understand exactly why he was always talking about him."

Two months after the England midfielder departed Burley's Ipswich for 6m and became the sole Englishman signed by Ruud Gullit at Newcastle United, the Dutchman resigned - to be replaced by 66-year-old Robson.

"When Mr Robson first came in, he got everyone together and said: 'I'm not scared of any of you lot. If you don't listen to me or you mess me around, I'll go and see the chairman and get you out of this club'. He was saying it to the likes of Alan Shearer and Duncan Ferguson. At the time it seemed hard to believe that a manager was speaking like that to Alan and Duncan - it almost didn't seem the right thing to say - but Mr Robson got their respect straight away.

"Everyone's listened to him, we've started to climb the Premiership and now we all want to learn from him; everyone realises he's going to be of great benefit to their careers. We know he's handled people like Stoichkov, Romario and Ronaldo. I think if you drew up a list of the 50 greatest players in the world, you'd probably find he'd coached quite a few."

Spectators at Newcastle's training ground have been startled to see Robson join his charges for daily press-ups and sit-ups. "It's unbelievable," enthused Dyer. "He's rarely out of breath. A few players can't keep up with him on the sit-ups."

There is no danger of the hyperactive Dyer falling into that category. "My fitness and energy are probably my biggest assets, although my football brain's not bad," he said, sitting uncharacteristically still at St James's Park. "At school I used to win cross-country races, I've no qualms about running all day. Some players hate running but I love it; it makes it hard for opponents to stay with me."

At one time certain coaches suspected Dyer might be better advised concentrating on athletics. "When Ipswich schoolboys used to play Wimbledon, they were all 6ft and there were games when I didn't touch the ball for 40 minutes," he said. "I shone when we played passing teams but I lacked physical presence. Some people at Ipswich were worried about offering me a traineeship because they thought I wouldn't fill out." Undeterred, he took up karate and "luckily Ipswich took a chance on me".

Portman Road provided the crushing disappointment of three successive first division play-off defeats but also offered invaluable first-team experience. "I'm only 20 but I've played over 100 senior games," reflected a man who is 5ft 8in and weighs barely 10st. "I don't think that would have been the case if I'd joined a Premiership team from school. I look at the likes of Jody Morris at Chelsea and realise how lucky I was to be at a club which gave young players so much help.

"When I left school I was very right-footed but Ipswich's youth coaches made me stay behind every afternoon for sessions in which I was only allowed to use my left. Now I'm comfortable with both and defenders can't show me onto my 'wrong' foot." Similarly, on Tyneside Dyer spends many afternoons undergoing extra training with Mick Wadsworth, Robson's head coach. "Mick works a lot with younger players on our weaknesses and he's been a major help to me," he said.

Refreshingly self-critical, Dyer identifies his two principal flaws as heading and long-range shooting. "Mr Robson wants me to work on them and I understand why. Last season I think I got eight goals but I should really have had 18. Paul Goddard, my old youth coach at Ipswich, always told me that although my game looked very good I would be judged on end product; on scoring or putting someone through with an early pass."

Increasingly resisting the temptation to dwell on the ball or beat one defender too many, Dyer's give-and-go game is proving pleasingly selfless. Such burgeoning maturity persuaded Robson to relocate him from right wing to a roving, attacking, central midfield brief.

"Mr Robson told me he was giving me a free role, he asked me to take the chance and fully express myself. I love this role because I can make more runs and I'm in the thick of the action. I'll play anywhere for the team but central midfield is where games are won and lost. I played right wing-back for England Under-21s and it worked quite well but I don't really like being stuck out there because you can go ages without receiving the ball."

This failed to prevent Dyer from making one of the brightest right-sided England senior debuts in recent memory during England's demolition of Luxembourg last month. Things proved somewhat tougher when, during last Sunday's friendly against Belgium, he found it "defensively very hard. I was disappointed but as Kevin Keegan said afterwards it's a learning curve".

Back at St James's, his education is being accelerated by playing alongside Rob Lee. "Rob's got an unbelievable football brain, the way he's playing he'll probably force himself back into the England squad," said Dyer, who will broaden his European horizons when Newcastle travel to FC Zurich in the second round of the Uefa Cup on Thursday. "He and Gary Speed have been magnificent, they're always helping me. They give me the base to express myself; I wouldn't be able to do it without them."

In August, though, he felt temporarily embarrassed in Lee's company. "When the squad shirt numbers came out and I got Rob's old No 7, I was a bit worried," he admitted. "Ruud Gullit didn't give him a number and I felt gutted for him; not to be given a shirt was terrible. He'd worn No 7 throughout all his years at Newcastle and I feared he might hold it against me but he just carried on as if nothing had happened. When he got back into the team against Manchester United, I offered him the No 7 shirt back but he said no."

Although he socialises with younger players like Andy Griffin, Dyer is actively courted by Alan Shearer's circle: "I tend to mingle with Rob Lee, Alan Shearer and Gary Speed in training.

"We have a laugh; if I fall over the ball, Rob will always shout 'that's what you get for 6m these days'."

Having never previously lived away from his devoted parents - his father manages a Caribbean social club and his mother works in a sandwich shop - younger sister and schoolfriends in Ipswich, moving to Newcastle could have proved emotionally problematic for Dyer. Instead his modesty, willingness to learn and general joie de vivre ensured a fairly seamless transition to life in a city where walking alone is virtually impossible.

"You can't go unnoticed up here," smiled a politely laid-back individual who, unlike some footballers, instinctively looks people in the eye, shakes their hands and possesses plenty of relaxed small talk. "It's totally different from Ipswich, up here everyone wants to be your best friend. Out shopping people come up and say they love you, but it doesn't really bother me."

Not one for golf - "I'm too impatient" - or a great reader - "although I've enjoyed Tony Adams's and Alex Ferguson's autobiographies" - Dyer relaxes by playing snooker and going to the cinema.

"My mum and dad can't believe how at home I am here already, but people like Alan Shearer and Rob Lee have helped me settle in really well. Although I blame them for the night I got back to my hotel [Dyer's base until he moves into a house in December] and found my room had been turned upside down. They deny it but it looked like their work."

While Shearer and Lee were blanked by Gullit, Dyer remained a favourite. "Ruud was okay with me, we had conversations, we had a laugh and a giggle. I haven't spoken to him since he left but I owe him a great deal. It was a big gamble to spend 6m on someone who'd never played in the Premiership."

You suspect that by the time Robson has finished with him, it will not be possible to buy Dyer for 16m.

Louise Taylor

Page last updated 24 June, 2009