Nathan Dyer is quick to praise Brendan Rodgers' influence on his revival at Swansea, writes Stuart James
There is not a moment's hesitation when Nathan Dyer is asked what made Brendan Rodgers such a good manager at Swansea City. "Great man-management," says the Swansea winger. "He made you feel confident in your ability. And last season he made everyone feel part of the team and gave us the belief that we could beat anyone."
Rodgers is back at the Liberty Stadium today for the first time since he left to join Liverpool in the summer. He could do no wrong when he was in charge of Swansea, yet the tribal nature of football means that his decision to leave will be viewed by some as a form of betrayal, which could lead to him getting a rough ride from home fans on his return.
"Hopefully he gets a good reception, he definitely should do," Dyer says. "But I think it's going to be bad. Fans often think: 'If you're not with us, you're against us'."
Dyer blossomed under Rodgers. He was the supporters' player of the year during the Northern Irishman's first season in charge, when Swansea won promotion from the Championship via the playoffs in 2011, while his sparkling performances on the right wing last term were a key feature of the club's superb inaugural Premier League campaign, which culminated in a 1-0 victory over Liverpool on the final day to secure 11th place.
It was a fantastic season for everyone connected with the Welsh club, yet Dyer understands why Rodgers swapped Swansea for Liverpool. "It was a great opportunity for him. Nobody can argue that, if a big team comes in for your manager, he shouldn't consider it. He did great work here but the resources he's going to have at a club like Liverpool . . . and you always want to test yourself at a higher level. So I don't blame him for going."
Dyer is an instantly likeable character and he talks a lot of sense during an hour-long chat at the club's training ground. He is polite, unusually punctual for a footballer – the interview starts half an hour early – and grounded, which shines through when he speaks about how much he enjoys going back to his hometown of Trowbridge, in Wiltshire, to visit his parents and the former school-mates who remain his best friends. "People back home just treat me as 'Nath'," he says. "And I wouldn't want to be treated any different because I'm on TV now and again and I play football."
In fact, the more Dyer talks, whether in relation to the excitement he feels at the thought of getting married to his fiancée, Laura, next summer and the prospect of starting a family, or the importance of being a winger with many facets to his game rather than relying on the searing pace that led him to run the 100m in 11.3sec at school, the harder it is to believe that this is the same person who was sentenced to 60 hours' community service in 2008 after a night out in Portsmouth went badly wrong.
Dyer, aged 20 at the time and playing for Southampton, was caught on CCTV with a group of men rummaging through staff bags in a nightclub.
Bradley Wright-Phillips, his Southampton team-mate, was also present. Four members of staff reported having a total of £145 in cash, two mobile phones, a driving licence and bank cards stolen. Dyer said at the time, and maintains to this day, that he did not steal anything, but he pleaded guilty to non-dwelling burglary after admitting looking through the bags. Wright-Phillips pleaded not guilty and the case against him was later dropped.
It is an awkward subject to broach and Dyer could be forgiven for rolling his eyes and saying that he has no desire to discuss something which happened long ago and was clearly out of character, yet he does nothing of the sort and is prepared to explain the incident.
"I was in and out the team and I was going out a lot in those days," Dyer recalls. "It was just a lack of judgement [that night]. You get called in by people, 'Come in here, let's do a bit of mischief'. Honestly, I could swear on my life that I didn't do any wrong. But the fact that it looked like I was doing stuff was the reason I got penalised. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"I think there was about another six people that were there. I was showed the video and you could clearly see who was doing what. But obviously the fact that I play football, there was another guy that was involved who plays football as well – it was just us, we were the only two that got [arrested]. That's what happens if you're in the limelight – if anything goes wrong, those are the people that they're going to jump on."
He has paid a price ever since. "There was one ground, they used to absolutely abuse me. I didn't understand why because I had nothing to do with them in any way but they used to come for me a lot. But the last game I played, I scored two goals and I didn't really hear much from the start. I know some people are going to bring it up but to me it happened ages ago. And the people that know me – my friends, my family – they know the sort of person I am and that's what matters most."
Dyer did reasonably well at school but he was always destined to play sport. His mother, Jenny, was a decent amateur sprinter, while his father, Jonah, loved cricket. Dyer, however, took to football and grew up following Manchester United because, rather amusingly, "my mum fancied Bryan Robson".
He was spotted at the age of eight by Rod Ruddick, the Southampton scout who also discovered Gareth Bale. Along with Theo Walcott, Dyer and Bale would go on to become part of the talented crop that reached the 2005 FA Youth Cup final.
Many of that side have gone on to have decent careers in professional football, although when Dyer thinks back to those early days at Southampton, which evoke lots of happy memories, he finds it incredible how Bale has developed.
"The pace, I honestly don't know where it came from," he says, smiling. "I remember being able to knock it past him and just run. There's no chance I could do that now. I'm still quick but he's powerful. And there's a difference between the two."
Dyer believes that he was a late developer, which perhaps explains why things never quite clicked for him at Southampton. These days he feels he is a more complete player in terms of not only his ability but his understanding of the game.
"Back in the day I would always want to get the ball and just knock it past the defender, go down the line and try and cross it, whereas now I like to get the ball, be sharp, do one-twos, make through-balls, try and shoot, make runs and mix it up. Don't get me wrong, if I get a one-on-one, I want to take the player on but you've got to learn the game."
Swansea has proved to be a good place to further his education. Having joined initially on loan in early 2009 before the move was made permanent that summer, Dyer has played under Roberto Martinez, Paulo Sousa, Rodgers and now Michael Laudrup. He loves the club and enjoys a great relationship with the supporters, even if a few of them were getting too close for comfort before he moved house in September. "I'd get people knocking every day," Dyer says, laughing. "Kids would sometimes come up to the door and they'd say: 'All right?' and just stand there!"
He started this season by scoring two in the 5-0 win over QPR on the opening day, although he has been in and out of the side since, which is a source of frustration.
"Personally I'd like to have played a lot more games," he says. "I felt I did well at the start of the season. I've scored four goals so far and got two assists – two more goals and I will have equalled last season and we're not halfway through yet. It's always hard when you don't play, frustrating more than anything, but you've just got to work hard and be focused on where you want to be in life. And where I want to be is playing week in, week out in the Premier League for as long as possible."
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