Ruben Dias: ‘Pep Guardiola keeps you on red alert and will not let you relax’

Portugal defender tells 'The National' Manchester City are getting closer to Champions League glory

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While the rich and famous of the Premier League have headed off to various points of the globe during the current break in play, its leading light from last season remains on work duty.

Of a kind, anyway. It might be considerably less taxing than a Pep Guardiola tactics session, or being in the middle of a Rondo while Kevin de Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and Jack Grealish are on the outside.

But Ruben Dias – England’s reigning footballer of the year – is still on call. Albeit on site at a global tourist attraction.

The Portugal defender has been in Dubai pressing the flesh at Expo 2020, which is the club’s training kit partner.

As Dias points out, it really does not feel like work. He is just glad to be here.

“It’s the first time I’ve had a winter break like this,” Dias tells The National, as he casts his eye over the sweeping roof of the Terra Sustainability Pavilion at the Expo site.

“It is good to recharge after so many games and with the intensity [of top-level football].

“I think it is an important moment for us to recharge and give back better football to everyone.” Yeah, right.

Is it really possible to play much “better football”? Over the recent past, there have been times when it felt like City have completed football.

But then there is still that one elusive objective. The big one. After all, City have not yet won the Champions League.

Surely that gnaws away at them, especially when - as losing finalists to Chelsea - they got so close last season?

“I think it is just as important as every other competition for us,” Dias says.

“Obviously, it is the Champions League and, I guess, that says it all. But as a club, and with the team we have, we just want to go for everything. We want to win everything we can.

“The Champions League is a big challenge. There are loads of things involved with winning a Champions League. It is not an easy competition to win, but we are definitely trying our best to push and push every year.

“We need to know that it comes step by step. If you think too much ahead, you might trap yourself. We are very focused on the next round.

“Last year was one more step forward, not a step back in the final. We are working with that mentality, knowing we are getting closer. We just need to keep the focus on today.”

While the loss to Chelsea in last season’s final – in his homeland, too – was a bitter one for his team, Dias is sure the experience made them stronger.

“Of course we learned,” he says. “The way through to the final was impressive. It was the real taste of how to get there.

“You can always play good, but to go through in the Champions League, you need something else. I guess that something else is having the details. The details make a big difference in these competitions.

“Never thinking too far ahead, but knowing that to build something and to reach the ultimate goal, we need to have the right structure.”

And, Dias says, there is no one better on those details than City’s manager, Guardiola.

“It is the fact that he never changes that keeps us going,” Dias said.

“After you win so much, and you have done all of what you did – or what he has done, last year and throughout his whole managing career ­- I guess his real secret is he keeps the same.

“He keeps pushing. He keeps you on red alert, and doesn’t allow you to relax. Ultimately I think that is what makes the team not relax. Whatever you might win, you will not be relaxed the next year, and everyone knows it.

“You might win a game, but you know that after three days you have to do it again. That is very good when you want to be at the top, and especially when you are in a club like this, working with the players we have.”

Updated: January 27, 2022, 7:15 AM