It’s fair to say that a few eyebrows were raised this summer when Manchester City announced the signing of Ruben Dias for around £60m.
For a central defender who hadn’t really established himself on any sort of major stage, it seemed to be another misjudged defensive purchase.
However, as we come to the conclusion of the Portuguese’s maiden campaign in Manchester, that feeling of surprise and intrigue has been firmly replaced by admiration and applause.
Dias has had a season that very few will forget. He instantly established himself as a starter and has provided assurance, commitment and composure ever since. His consistent performances throughout the campaign were epitomised by a heroic showing on Tuesday night, as the club recorded one of their most famous victories on the European stage – beating much fancied PSG 2-0 (4-1 on aggregate) to seal a place in the Champions League final for the first time.
The show was, of course, stolen by the match-winning Riyad Mahrez, whose brace will live long in the memory. But it was the defensive resolve, led in particular by Dias, which inspired the Cityzens to such a commanding win and proved just how ready they are for European glory.
In a game that saw the Parisians throw just about everything they could muster at their opponents, it was the City back line that caught the kitchen sink and chucked it away to safety time after time. They were unfazed, due, for a large part, to the remarkable leadership of Dias.
At just 23 years of age (24 on May 14), the Portuguese has become a leading voice in Pep Guardiola’s side.
Along with Fernandinho – who was celebrating his 36th birthday on the night – Dias was instrumental to City’s unflappable performance. He was the voice, the organiser and the level head at the back that allowed City’s defence to maintain their composure and stay compact throughout.
The job was undeniably made easier by the absence of Kylian Mbappe but, even so, PSG had threats. Indeed, Dias was forced to put his body on the line on numerous occasions, at times transporting us back to decades gone by with his heroic defending. Even when Ander Herrera’s powerful driven cross struck him flush in the head from just yards away in the first half, the City man leapt back up and refused the congratulations of his colleagues, instead barking positional orders for the resulting corner.
Dias was responsible for three of his side’s nine blocks throughout the game, which kept Ederson from making even one save. He spectacularly denied Herrera once again on the hour mark, flying through the air to head away the Spaniard’s sweetly struck volley and, obviously, getting back up as if nothing had happened.
Only partner John Stones matched Dias’ four clearances, which helped stave off the attacks that their opponents imposed. The pair were everywhere to deny the likes of Neymar and Angel Di Maria.
The night will undoubtedly be remembered for Mahrez’s brace to send City to Istanbul, but it was the resolute character and unforgiving determination of Dias that drove his teammates to see out a defensive masterclass.
Of course, it’s a joint effort at the heart of defence and Stones deserves mountains of praise too, but Dias’ heroically stoic performance only epitomises how excellent he has been all season.