Man City defender Ruben Dias should win award after proving Sir Alex Ferguson right – Simon Mullock


Ruben Dias helped Man City storm to the Premier League title with his sublime defensive partnership with John Stones – but is he your Fans’ Footballer of the Year

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Nominees revealed for Fans’ Footballer of the Year

It was Sir Alex Ferguson who said that strikers win games, but defenders win titles.

And as Fergie landed 17 championships during his managerial career – 13 of them for Manchester United – I’m not going to argue with him.

That’s why I have chosen Ruben Dias as my footballer of the year for 2021.

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Dias was part of the Manchester City team that turned last season’s title race into a procession – despite being down in 13th place after their first eight games.

He signed for the Blues from Benfica for £60million just a few days after Pep Guardiola had seen his team humiliated 5-2 at home by Leicester.

Ruben Dias was sensational for Man City this year


Tom Flathers/Manchester City FC via Getty Images)

And although there were a few teething problems – draws with Leeds, West Ham and Liverpool and a defeat at Tottenham – his influence on Guardiola’s team cannot be overstated.

The common perception has been throughout the Guardiola years that for all their attacking brilliance, City could still be “got at” defensively.

The stats from Guardiola’s first four seasons at the Etihad don’t quite fit with that argument.

But the Catalan’s defensive blueprint demands that his defenders are brave enough to play a high line to squeeze the opposition and be skillful enough to go one-on-one with opposition forwards.

With full-backs ordered to get on the front foot, there is no hiding place if you are a centre-back in Guardiola’s team.

High risks bring high rewards.

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Ruben Dias lifting the Premier League trophy

And, sometimes, dire consequences.

But Dias isn’t just a high-calibre footballer who ticks all of Pep’s boxes technically.

He is also the kind of leader that City had been crying out for since the departures of Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta.

Dias was 22 when he captained Benfica. There is a video of him giving a pre-match team-talk on YouTube. Even if you don’t speak Portuguese, you still get the message.

When he arrived at the Etihad, he immediately became an influence who everyone felt compelled to follow.

Dias makes sure every crucial block or tackle is celebrated with as much joy as a goal.

He doesn’t stop organising, advising and cajoling.

His presence enabled Kyle Walker and Joao Cancelo to either lend themselves to central midfield or attack down the flanks.

And it is no coincidence that alongside him, John Stones finally turned his enormous potential into consistent performances.

Stones raised his game to such an extent that Aymeric Laporte could not get into the team.

This season, Laporte has responded in kind – and Guardiola now has three world-class centre-backs to rotate.

Jurgen Klopp discovered how important having that kind of quality at the heart of a team is when he lost Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip and Joe Gomez through long-term injuries.

Mo Salah may have scored his obligatory 20-plus goals – and is once again on course to do that again.

But it’s telling that Merseysiders have been transformed again by the return of their defensive kingpins.

Dias finished with Premier League and Carabao Cup medals from his first season at City. He was also named FWA Footballer of the Year.

But it was the ones that got away – defeats in the Champions League final and the FA Cup semi-final – that prompted him to keep training throughout the summer, even after Portugal had been knocked out of the Euros.

The frightening thing is that at the age of 24, his peak years are ahead of him.

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