When Pep Guardiola began to coach Barcelona in the summer of 2008, he had four centers: veterans Puyol and Márquez, the recently returned Piqué (who had spent four years warming up the bench at Manchester United) and Martín Cáceres, who had just arrive and would never come to fruition at the Camp Nou. A fifth center-back, Gaby Milito, spent the year injured.
That season, Barça crossed paths in their Champions group (and months later in the European Super Cup) with Shakhtar Donetsk. Pep, who saw a cascade of videos, fell in love with his young center-back, Dmitro Chigrinski, who in his opinion had a Barça stamp for his mettle and his ability to come out with the ball under control. Having won the treble in his first season as manager, his wishes were orders and in the summer of 2009 the club ended up paying 25 million euros for a central defender completely unknown in Spain.
But temper, control and the ability to come out with order and concert were replaced by a bundle of nerves, clumsiness, losses and unnecessary penalties. The Camp Nou, always impatient, fell on him and Chigrinski ended up playing 12 games in the first round and only two the rest of the year. There was no second chance. Sandro Rosell, who had reached the club’s presidency in June 2010, preferred to resell Shakhtar for 15 million, 10 less than it had cost but a good handful of euros to balance his accounts. Guardiola did not want to sell but they let him know that they needed the money to pay the employees …
Chigrinski has never had a bad word towards Barcelona. “I, at Shakhtar, when I receive the ball, I feel like the king; at Barça, when he received the ball, he had to immediately look for Xavi or Iniesta; here I look for the long pass in depth; not there. It was my fault, because I should have felt freer, less pressured, but I couldn’t. Guardiola was quite patient with me, he taught me many things in attack and defense, but Barça couldn’t wait, ”he told this newspaper in 2011.
“People pay attention to the centrals a lot now. Guardiola has spent a lot of money because for his football it is very important. He wants defenders to start the game with an excellent pass, to build the game. They are all of a very high standard. But he keeps looking because he is not entirely satisfied “, reflected Chigrinski in The vanguard five months ago.
In this permanent search, Manchester City acquired the Portuguese Rúben Dias from Benfica on September 29 for 68 million euros (56.6 million, plus Nicolás Otamendi). Now the English association of football writers has named Dias Premier Player of the Year, a highly prestigious award that has been awarded since 1948. For Pep Guardiola it is a triumph almost as great as for the player himself, a way to remove himself from above the ghost of Chigrinski and a good argument to silence those who have never stopped saying that Guardiola’s teams do not know how to defend, win or lose.
Actually, what Rúben Dias has contributed the most to City’s defense is leadership. A leadership that has allowed to correct a bad start to the season, win the Premier and the League Cup and play next Saturday, for the first time in its history, the Champions League final, against Chelsea, the team that eliminated him against prognosis in the semifinals of the Cup of England.
Rúben Dias, de facto City captain although he does not wear the official stripes, is the first defender to win the award since Steve Nicol did in 1989 and only the third to win it in his first season in the Premier. His notable predecessors were Jürgen Klinsmann (1995) and Gianfranco Zola (1997).