Pep Guardiola conceded he did not expect Ruben Dias to have such a huge galvanising impact on Manchester City this season.
The Portugal centre-back became City’s record signing when he joined for £62million from Benfica in September, in the immediate aftermath of Guardiola’s men going down to a 5-2 defeat against Leicester City in their first home game of the season.
Dias quickly established himself as City’s defensive lynchpin and helped to inspire them to glory in the Premier League and the EFL Cup, with a shot at a maiden Champions League triumph on the horizon against Chelsea next weekend.
On Thursday, the 24-year-old was voted FWA Footballer of the Year and, speaking ahead of Sunday’s concluding Premier League game against Everton at the Etihad Stadium, Guardiola lauded Dias’ much-discussed leadership qualities.
“It was unexpected, honestly. We knew about his quality but you never know how it is going to happen [after you sign a player],” he said.
“Especially how he is happy helping the guys. The defender who plays only for himself is a problem.
“Ruben is always thinking about his partnership, the central defender, the holding midfielder, even the wingers.
“He is a guy who is so generous. He is a professional thinking about football 24 hours. He is so young.
“I’m pretty sure, in a short time, his mates and the backroom staff will choose him as one of the captains because he has shown he can lead.
“In the bad moments, always he is ready to help. He wants to improve, he listens. He admits his bad moments and the good moments he shares with his mates.”
Among defenders to have played more than 2,000 minutes in the Premier League this season, Dias has the best minutes-per-goal conceded rate of 131 (21 conceded across 2,755 minutes).
Only Aston Villa’s Matt Targett (15) has more than his 14 clean sheets when completing 90 minutes, while he also helps to get City on the front foot thanks to 16.3 progressive carries per game.
Dias boasts a stunning 71 per cent win rate in the top flight, and yet Guardiola is still predominantly drawn to those more intangible qualities of leadership and inspiration – things he feels he can take no credit for having taught.
“He is a man of communication on the pitch and off the pitch. You feel it. The trick is not for the club or the manager to give you a role [and say] you are a leader, it comes from inside in a natural way,” he explained.
“If it’s not real, not true what he wants to be then people realise it. It would be ridiculous.
“He is not, he is a guy who when he says something he believes it and wants to help the guys. He takes responsibility.
“And at his age, this is natural. It comes from his dad and mum and all the mates and managers he had in Benfica who helped him to grow.”
And Guardiola believes the best is yet to come from a player who is set to be key in Portugal’s defence of their European title next month.
“I am sure he is a guy who thinks he can improve,” he added. “I get that feeling every day in the training sessions, how he prepares in all the departments – always thinking I can do better.
“That is why in this business he will have success. In the bad moments, he will not be depressed, completely the opposite. He will accept that it is not good, what is the best detail to improve and accept that he can do better.”