For many another, the Premier League title would have been enough, especially if it gave him a status as a pivotal part of only the sixth team to win the English top flight in three successive seasons. Not Ruben Dias, however. He said: “We’ve not done anything yet.”
It was an indication that Dias is not focusing on the three-peat, but thinking of a different kind of hat-trick: the treble. One down, two to go: Manchester City have clinched the Premier League. Now for finals on successive weekends: Manchester United in the FA Cup, Internazionale in the Champions League.
“We definitely know what we’re going for and we really want it,” said the centre-back. “But we know if we start to think too far ahead then it will kill us. Our heads are on training. Little by little we think. Just think and do it.”
For much of footballing history, the double, the combination of the FA Cup and the English title, felt an impossible dream, something no club did between 1897 and 1961. Now it may be a stepping stone. “It’s a great achievement,” Dias said. “We’ll celebrate it if we do and then we’ll think about what is coming because we are still not finished.”
It underlines the way the Champions League represents the final frontier for City. They are, arguably, underachievers in the FA Cup in the last dozen seasons, but it is rarely mentioned. Since the breakthrough of their first trophy in 35 years in the 2011 FA Cup, they have only won the competition once, as part of the domestic treble Pep Guardiola’s side did in 2019.
City won that final 6-0, against Watford. Now for United, a team they have both beaten and lost to this season. Their first meeting with Erik ten Hag’s United ended 6-3, though City led 6-1 until Anthony Martial’s late intervention. Dias is not anticipating a repeat.
“It’ll be a tight game,” he said. “A final is a final, it’ll always be tight whatever the odds. It’s a special competition for all of us and a special competition for the country. We want to win it very much.”
They have multiple motivations, from the chance to overcome local rivals to the pursuit of the treble. “The moment you start losing that fire, that spice for winning trophies then you’re not doing anything at this club,” Dias added. “My passion is still there. We really want to win again.”
That determination has been apparent. Dias is one of City’s five-man captaincy group. Cameras have caught him giving stirring speeches in the dressing room. He may channel Guardiola’s approach, the feeling that whatever they do, they should do more.
“Although all of us have done great things, the demand is always very high,” he said. “It starts mainly from the manager and the demand is always there. No matter what we do, individually or as a team, we’ll be asked for more and more. You have the personal demand of everyone as well. For us to be at the top this long is because everyone has it in himself.”
City’s prowess across various competitions has had another benefit for Dias. “At the end of the day we don’t train that much, because we play every three days,” he said. “Training is not the most intense because we need to rest.” Which, in turn, means he does not have to face the 52-goal striker Erling Haaland in training that often.
Instead, he is likely to be charged with stopping the 30-goal forward Marcus Rashford on Saturday. United’s top scorer got the decider at Old Trafford in January. “We’ve played them, we know their strong points and weak points,” shrugged Dias. “United has many threats and we know them well. We know who can be dangerous and how they can be dangerous. Overall, United are dangerous because of the team they are and not any individual. Our biggest weapon is focusing on what we can do.”
Which can be intimidating enough. Minus Dias, and several others, they lost 1-0 at Brentford on Sunday. It was, though, a first defeat in 26 games. Their victims in that run included Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Arsenal. Dias is fit again – “I’m on fire,” he said – and, besides his defensive abilities, that may be an omen. City have not lost a game he has started since October. Now two more victories will finish this season in a way that even he can be satisfied.