Ruben Dias’ thirst for defensive dirty work and natural leadership qualities are among the reasons for his outstanding debut season in the Premier League, former Manchester City defender Nedum Onuoha told Stats Perform.
Dias was named FWA Footballer of the Year on Thursday after inspiring City to their third title in four years under Pep Guardiola, whose team also won their fourth consecutive EFL Cup.
The 24-year-old Portugal international is the first defender to the win the prize since Steve Nicol in 1989 and the third man to lead the voting on his first season in English football after Jurgen Klinsmann (1994-95) and Gianfranco Zola (1996-97).
Onuoha believes Dias has a natural aptitude for the qualities most celebrated in Premier League defenders, something that could yet bring elusive European success to City in next weekend’s Champions League final against Chelsea.
“We’re in a country where a fan will clap you just as much for making a tackle as they will for scoring and a goal. That’s not the norm around the world,” he said.
“All those things that sort of made the Premier League what it what it is, I think he thrived within them. He seemed to take up a leadership-type role, he’s somebody who wants to defend all the time, somebody who wants to try and win all the duels possible.
“When somebody’s trying to wind up to have a shot, he wants to throw his body in there. He fits perfectly what’s required from an elite centre-back in the Premier League.”
Dias’ desire to hurl himself in front of goal-bound shots was a hallmark of City’s Champions League semi-final triumph over Paris Saint-Germain, while he and centre-back partner John Stones have regularly been seen celebrating their defensive interventions as if they were goals.
10 – Manchester City in all competitions this season with John Stones and Rúben Dias starting:
1 goal conceded
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 17, 2021
Unsurprisingly, Dias has made more blocks than any other City player in the Premier League this season (22) and also leads the way in terms of clearances (88).
A passing accuracy of 93.16 per cent is the best among any player to have amassed 2,500 or more minutes – not necessarily unexpected for a central defender in a Guardiola team, but Dias’ 209 passes into the final third overall and 16.3 progressive carries per 90 minutes show he is adept at getting City on the front foot.
Nevertheless, it is his infectious defending that catches the eye.
“He wants to go and duel with his attacker, he wants to make it as hard as possible for him all the time,” Onuoha said.
“Ruben Dias has made a point of doing everything he can to stop the ball going in his goal.
“Even though you can play diagonal balls, he can play through balls do all that stuff, his success is based on a foundation of making it as hard as possible for the opposition.
“That’s been so contagious throughout the City backline. When you have somebody who is on it all the time, you can’t help but match that.”
The TEAM! pic.twitter.com/sukBcBhuiX
— Rúben Dias (@rubendias) May 11, 2021
A 5-2 defeat at home to Leicester City last September immediately before his arrival suggests a very different campaign might have unfolded without City sanctioning their club-record £62million signing of Dias from Benfica.
“I think they would still have found a way to be more competitive than they were at the start of the season, but they were in mid-table. They weren’t part of the title conversation until we got towards the end of 2020,” Onuoha added.
“In that moment, if you don’t have a strong defence, or strong leaders who were capable of like trying to catch up then they would have struggled and would have had a disappointing season.
“City found ultimate consistency and it was based around a sort of toughness – we have to win this.
“It wasn’t because they were beating teams 10-0. They could there could beat a team 4-0 or could grind out a 1-0. Ultimately, that type of stuff falls back on mentality. When you bring in a mentality like Ruben Dias, then it fits perfectly.”