Dyer out to make the right impact with England and Newcastle

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The Independent Football

Image is everything to footballers, as Kieron Dyer's ill-judged performance on the recent BBC Football Diaries programme showed. Then the 25-year-old England midfielder talked of his expensive jewelry, his love of cars. "I got labelled cocky," Dyer admits. And not for the first time.

Image is everything to footballers, as Kieron Dyer's ill-judged performance on the recent BBC Football Diaries programme showed. Then the 25-year-old England midfielder talked of his expensive jewelry, his love of cars. "I got labelled cocky," Dyer admits. And not for the first time.

But the damage done was as nothing compared to what was thought of him last September following his alleged involvement in an incident when a 17-year-old girl claimed to have been raped in a hotel. For weeks the Newcastle United player had to endure the scrutiny before he was able to release a statement clarifying that, although he was in London's Grosvenor House Hotel that night, he was definitely not involved. In any event, no charges were ever brought against the two players who were subsequently identified.

It is, understandably, a difficult topic. But Dyer, speaking for the first time about the so-called "scandal", is candid. "I was in the hotel and went to dinner with my agent and a lady. When I was named in that, I was devastated. There were times when the chairman and manager would have to get someone to bring me in for training because I just didn't want to train.

"The newspapers are so powerful; people were believing them. I remember going out for a meal in Newcastle and a fan coming up and saying: 'I'm going to rip your head off. How can you do that to a girl?' I was devastated."

It got worse. "Every away game I was dreading it because fans were calling me a rapist. My first away game [after the alleged incident] was Middlesbrough and we won 1-0 and everyone was delighted in the dressing room afterwards, but I just sat in the corner. JJ [Jermaine Jenas] came up and said: 'Don't let these people get you down.' I said to JJ: 'It's not nice to be called something like that when I wasn't even there.' What made it worse was because the investigation was going on, I couldn't release the statement saying I wasn't involved. That was hard. That set me back."

Understandably, it knocked some of the natural exuberance out of him. "I did lose a bit of my cockiness on the pitch," he says. And that, Dyer reasons, inhibited his game. "My mum was reading the paper and she was saying that people don't realise that I was cocky as a six-year-old. People say I'm cocky because I have two cars and a diamond watch. But that means that 90 per cent of footballers are cocky as well. Everyone has got them. We are in a fortunate position. We can afford these things."

Confident or over-confident? It's a balancing act. And one from which Dyer has fallen in the past. There have even been suggestions - strenuously denied by Sven Goran Eriksson - that his behaviour is being closely monitored at England's training camp in Sardinia ahead of Euro 2004 and that he may be expelled.

"It is annoying when people say I am the leader of the brat pack," he says of the cabal of young stars at Newcastle which, rumour has it, have constantly, critically, over-stepped the mark this season. "But that's not true. Especially this season. I haven't gone out as much as I used to."

Unfortunately, Newcastle have gone out all too often - early exits from the Champions' League, the domestic cups and out of the running in the Premiership. "We have let ourselves down," says Dyer. "Alan Shearer and Gary Speed were brilliant again for us. Without them we wouldn't have got into Europe."

But he thinks the Champions' League failure, in particular, may be "a blessing in disguise". Neither Sir Bobby Robson, Freddie Shepherd nor the "Geordie nation" is likely to agree but Dyer says "everyone now knows we're not the greatest team. We will come back next season and be better."

He hopes to remain on Tyneside, where he has been since moving from Ipswich Town for £6.5m five years ago. "There's talk of Newcastle wanting certain players out - they have had enough and that - but I can put my hand on my heart and even if Newcastle accept a bid from any club, I would turn it down because I have not done myself justice to the Geordies."

Consistency has, perennially, been his problem. There is no doubt he is one of the most naturally gifted players in England. His pace alone is phenomenal. He should, in truth, have displaced Paul Scholes. And yet... "Hopefully this [the season's disappointments] will get me back on track," Dyer claims. "All of us. Not just me. Craig Bellamy, Jermaine Jenas, everyone really. There's a lot of talent. We are not kids now. It's about fulfilling that potential. I'm not classed as a young player any more. It's time I have to start doing it.

"I have never been so focused as now. There are times as a youngster in training when the day before a game you ease off and take it easy, but we can't afford to do that now. We are not the Vieiras and Gerrards of this world. We have to train as we play. We have got to prove ourselves. We have not proven ourselves as players. We are nowhere near world-class players. Newcastle have only one world-class player and that is Alan Shearer. He should be the benchmark. He is the perfect pro: eats the right things and is never late for training. We are going to have to start doing that."

Of course, the temptation is to wonder why it has taken until now? Why he has wrapped his Ferrari around the Swing Bridge in Newcastle or been involved in various other unsavoury incidents? "We get wonderful things written about us and we start to believe it," Dyer explains. "Maybe we ease off a bit. Maybe you do think you just have to turn up to beat the Birminghams. But these teams don't roll over for anyone."

The criticisms he has faced, Dyer promises, will be used to his advantage. "Us failing and not doing ourselves justice will make us stronger and make us more focused," he says. Dyer draws on the example of Liverpool's Steven Gerrard who was "criticised by Gérard Houllier [last season]. People thought it was over the top but look at the season he has just had. Maybe you need criticism to get yourself back on track and get your focus again. Manchester United have been criticised and come back and won the League [in 2003]. I honestly hope this is a blessing in disguise. But I do feel sorry for the manager when people say he has lost the dressing room. He hasn't. We have just under-performed. Hopefully that won't happen again."

Carpe diem. But Dyer has been here before and failed to seize the day. His talent is without dispute, his temperament less so.

"This season I could use an excuse," he says. Although not a very convincing one. "I have been played on the right or not had a set position. The club pays my wages and even though it's frustrating, and I spoke to the manager about it, I have got to play there, out wide. When you are not doing yourself justice, it's frustrating because you are thinking, 'If only I was playing in my best position'. But that's life as a footballer."

Dyer sees himself as a "second striker" and hopes to add to his 20 international caps in Portugal. "With a little bit of luck we can go all the way," he says. It would go some distance in eradicating the tribulations of this past year. And in convincing the public that Kieron Dyer can, finally, fulfil his audacious potential. Perhaps then image would not be everything.