At Manchester City they start every season with an election. Each member of the squad votes who should be captain. The winner takes the armband and the next four become deputies, forming Pep Guardiola’s leadership group.
This year’s quintet of experienced characters are Fernandinho, Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan, Raheem Sterling and Kyle Walker. Occasionally there are some surprises; Sergio Aguero dropping out of that group after last September’s ballot and the nine nominations Nathan Ake received.
Ake, a summer recruit from Bournemouth, had only been training for a few days, yet had clearly made an impression.
The results suggest City’s players are open to change and you wonder how many votes would have dropped in the box for Ruben Dias if he had arrived earlier.
Dias missed the voting process. He did not join from Benfica until two days after a 5-2 home defeat by Leicester — a scoreline that feels consigned to a bygone era.
Given what has happened over the following four months, Dias will surely become the latest new member of the leadership five when the players head to the polls this year. Around City, there are already murmurings that Dias will pull on the armband in the future. Put it this way: nobody has mentioned the absence of Vincent Kompany since this 23-year-old turned up from Lisbon.
‘You’re saying that, not me,’ says Dias, smiling awkwardly. It becomes clear he is not a man to embrace compliments. ‘The thing I can say about me is that no matter the age, you are either one type of person or not, you are either the winner or not. That’s not a matter of age, it’s a matter of, ‘Are you ready or not?’
His question does not need answering. But for the avoidance of doubt, here’s his case. City have kept 15 clean sheets in 23 matches involving Dias, conceding nine goals.
They have been breached three times in their last 16 games, one a freak deflected own goal by the man himself and another a last-minute consolation at the end of a demolition job on Chelsea.
The air of defensive defiance, a cornerstone of previous title wins, has returned. While Dias flatly refuses to take credit, the high-fives and fist bumps between him and reinvigorated partner John Stones at every block, every tackle, reveal a shift in culture. Suddenly, City love defending.
‘The other day someone said to me here in the club, ‘Ah, amazing, another clean sheet’,’ he tells Sportsmail. ‘And I just said the thing that gives me most pleasure is not even the clean sheet. It’s the other team not even making one shot on goal. The thing that gives me the most pleasure is that my keeper doesn’t make a save.
‘I’m a defender. I’m there to defend. Nowadays the idea is that a defender needs to do much more. My focus has always been on becoming better and doing more but I’ve never forgotten that, first of all, I’m a defender.
‘If not me, then who else will take pride from defending? It gives me pleasure to make the other team feel powerless.’
Dias’s statistics are interesting in that sense. He is nowhere near the top of Premier League lists for clearances, blocks, interceptions, tackles or headers and that goes a long way to illustrate how good he is. The reading of the game, the positional sense. No mistakes.
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