Defending is cool again.
Following on from Virgil van Dijk’s PFA Player of the Year win 2018/19, Ruben Dias has been named FWA Footballer of the Year for this season after a sustained period of domination at centre-back.
Two defensive winners in three years may not seem like much of a trend but it’s notable given the last defender to win either of the top individual awards on these shores before Van Dijk was John Terry in 2004/05.
And the last defender to claim the FWA’s gong before Dias was Steve Nicol in 1988/89.
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The Portuguese’s triumph was something of a celebratory throwback to no-nonsense defending.
In an age when defenders are required to be as comfortable in possession as midfielders, Dias set himself apart through merciless defending: headers, blocks, tackles, clearances.
For all the technical ability in Man City’s ranks, it was their most courageous player – one who has mastered controlled aggression – who has been singled out for recognition.
And here’s where we can draw parallels between club football and the international stage.
Portugal are in good shape to mount a defence of their European crown this summer with an array of attacking talent: Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva, Diogo Jota, Joao Felix, Andre Silva, Cristiano Ronaldo.
However, Dias could well be their most important player as the most in-form defender in Europe.
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Pepe and Jose Fonte have also been included in Fernandes Santos’ 26-man squad for Euro 2020 but they have a combined age of 75.
The former proved he is still capable of heroic backs-to-the-wall penalty box defending earlier this season when Porto repelled Juventus in a memorable Champions League knockout tie while the latter was instrumental in Lille pipping PSG to the Ligue 1 title.
It’s possible we could see the two experienced heads rotate alongside Dias for the duration of the tournament.
At the time of writing, the Man City rock is the most-popular defender available in Dream Team Euros.
His ownership of 39.9% makes him three times more popular than Toby Alderweireld – which is remarkable when you consider the different tasks facing Portugal and Belgium in the groups stages of Euro 2020.
Dias and co are members of the tournament’s Group of Death alongside France, Germany and Hungary while Roberto Martinez will be expecting to top Group B ahead of Denmark, Finland and Russia.
It’s a testament to Dias’ efforts for City this season that so many Dream Team Euros bosses are backing him in the face of arguably the toughest fixture schedule this summer.
Although it is worth noting that Portugal take on Hungary in their opener so even if you aren’t sure how the rest of Group F will play out, Dias and his team-mate Joao Cancelo seem like very good options for the opening week at least.
Remember, you have 20 transfers to last the tournament’s duration.