Manchester City fans can heave a huge sigh of relief after the club reached an agreement to sign Benfica centre-back Ruben Dias. With the end of the transfer window approaching, it was becoming difficult to see how the club would make headway in the quest to sign a top centre-back.
Target number one was Kalidou Koulibaly. After impressing for Napoli in the Italian Serie A and Europe for Napoli, he established a reputation as one of the best in the world. And that was not just in his position. Able to play the ball, pass and initiate attack while doing a good job at the back, it seemed he was ready-made for Pep Guardiola.
But things don’t always work as expected. Other factors prevented a much talked about move to the Etihad Stadium. City and Guardiola were not ready to be held to ransom by the Italian side led by a president trying to prove an unnecessary point. Other options were considered and rightly so.
Among the options were Atletico Madrid’s Jose Gimenez and Sevilla’s Diego Carlos and Jules Kounde. But it soon became clear the Spanish sides were not ready to do business. That despite City pushing hard for Kounde. There was a deadlock.
But then as always, a new way opened. Benfica’s Ruben Dias. With the deal sealed and the Portugal international headed to the Etihad Stadium, did City get the short end of the stick? Let’s look at the statistics for the three most likely signings (h/t whoscored.com for numbers).
Kalidou Koulibaly, 29
Starting with Koulibaly, the French-born Senegal international is highly regarded for a reason. But the first thing working against him is his age. At 29, it’s safe to say he is enjoying his last days at the top or as a top player. He turns 30 in June and with no experience in the Premier League, there is a huge possibility he would have struggled with the pace of the division.
However, his numbers on the pitch are impressive. Once he adapted to the new environment, he could have easily become one of the best in the division even giving Virgil Van Dijk a run for his money.
He averaged two tackles per game in the league last season, while making 1.2 interceptions and 2.4 clearances. With 2 aerial duels won per game, he had an overall league rating of 6.72 by Whoscored.
Guardiola requires that his defenders not just excel at the basics. They must be good passes of the ball and able to set the forwards on the way as fast as possible. Koulibaly is great at this with average passes per game of 67.4 and a pass success rate of 91.4 per cent.
Having played in a top European league and also in UEFA competition for several years now, Koulibaly stands head and shoulders above the others in experience. On the contrary, both Kounde and Dias are at best emerging top talents that will rule the next decade.
Jules Kounde, 21
The Frenchman lags behind the other duo in passing statistics in the league with just 49.9 per game. That is well below what City would have demanded of him. However, his average from last season’s Europa League campaign is much better, with 73.1 passes per game at a 92.9 success rate.
But he is the best dribbler among the three registering 0.6 per game while Koulibaly and Dias had 0.4 and 0.3 respectively. That is certainly a useful skill for a defender tasked with bringing the ball out of the defence before releasing to forwards.
Kounde is also good in the air winning 3.2 aerial duels per league game last term. His overall Whoscored rating for performance in La Liga for the 2019/20 season stood at 6.87.
Ruben Dias, 23
Koulibaly leads the way in tackles, interceptions and clearances over both Kounde and Dias as the Portuguese made 1.3 tackes and 0.9 interceptions per league game. But the 23-year-old compares favorably with Koulibaly in terms of average passes per game recording 66.2 passes with a success rate of 88.6 per cent in the league last season.
It’s worth noting, though, that Dias started the new campaign strongly recording 90.7 and 91.9 pass success rates in two games each for Portugal and Benfica. That shows a player improving on his game.
Dias won 2.6 aerial duels per match last term and tops both Koulibaly and Kounde when it comes to clearances (3.1). That earned him a 7.07 Whoscored league rating.
In the end, both Kounde and Dias compare favourably with Koulibaly. Although the duo have limited experience in a top European league and UEFA competitions, they are on the rise as opposed to the Napoli man.
In Dias, City will get another six years of top level football before he arrives at Koulibaly’s age.
Looking at the price the club ended up paying which adds up to around £48m, with the Otamendi fee included, City will pay less than Napoli’s asking price for Koulibaly. And yet get a younger version of the player. It is understandable then why club hierarchy chose to go for alternatives rather than meet Napoli’s demands.