It's 2:15pm on a Wednesday afternoon and Ruben Dias has joined a Zoom call with SPORTbible from the hydrotherapy area inside Manchester City's Etihad campus. "Hello, how are you?" he asks, holding the phone as he sits in an ice bath.
A self-confessed man of routine, Dias knows the importance of rest and recovery.
In his own words, the Portuguese defender wants to be consistent in everything he does. From the minute his alarm goes off at 7:30am, Dias wants to be in a position where he can attack the day with energy.
After eight hours of sleep, he wakes up to the same breakfast; an omelette, avocado on toast, smoked salmon and lots of fruit. "The more colours the better," he says. A shot of ginger for the inflammatory process follows alongside a healthy amount of collagen gel to prevent injuries.
"I also drink some orange juice, but not always because I like to vary between yoghurt and some other natural juices," Dias says. "It needs to be natural... that's a really important detail. These are the sacrifices that have to be made."
The word 'detail' soon becomes a recurring theme throughout our chat. For example, Dias knows he has a tendency to lose weight because he burns fat quickly, so breakfast has become the most important meal of the day ahead of training or a match day.
Shortly after tucking into around 1,000 calories, Dias leaves the house at 8:15am and makes his way to the club’s state-of-the-art training facility to begin his daily treatments with Manchester City's medical staff. More often than not, the 25-year-old defender is the first player to arrive but it's not about 'needing' to be the first one there.
"I plan whatever I need to do and always prepare my time wisely," he tells SPORTbible after becoming the face of Nike Underwear's collection and their 'Move to Zero' plans. "My schedule works around what I need to do and how much time I need. It's not anything to do with being first in the building but by doing so, you naturally end up setting a good example to others. You need to be sharp. You need to be on time."
As soon as he arrives at the training ground, Dias concentrates on the treatments his body tells him to work on, with gym work and physiotherapy being a regular theme – both before and after training kicks off at 11am.
"I believe you can prevent injuries by using a physiotherapist and for me, the most important thing is how you look after yourself in terms of being proactive and not just reactive whenever something happens," he says.
"I go to the gym straight after training to recover but what I do is more subjective, because it depends on the level of detail I want to focus on at that very moment. So now I've had an injury, I need to do different kinds of work. It’s always about adapting; having that will and desire of wanting to be active and wanting to be energetic all the time. Generating energy is crucial."
The Portuguese centre-back, who joined Premier League champions City from boyhood club Benfica, forced the sports science team to think differently when he arrived in 2020. The club’s strength and conditioning coach, Donough Holohan, recently pointed out that Dias works at times when normally other players don't as part of his routine.
Dias says it’s the will to improve that keeps him going, even when fatigue kicks in.
"When the games come every three days, you will feel tired," he says. "But there is a certain point when you are over that hill and you don't feel tired anymore. And you just keep on going. You can overcome anything. Essentially, I try to be on a level where I can overcome whatever tiredness I might have."
Dias has been a stand-out performer for Pep Guardiola's side after joining from Portugal's top flight. After leading City to the title in his debut season, he lifted the Premier League Player of the Season award, just weeks after winning the Football Writers' Association prize.
He puts his success down to being true to himself at all times.
"I think it's peace of mind," says Dias after being asked about the most important detail of his journey to date. "People talk about leaving no stone unturned but in the end, it's about not overthinking things. Just be the way you are.
"I'm a very organised person. I'm very focused but that’s just the way I am. It’s not because I think, 'oh, I know, I need to leave no stone unturned.' No, it's just the way I am. I’m being me. And I'm creating my own peace of mind through that. I'm not being who I think I need to be."
That self-belief and single-minded approach is important on a daily basis. The pressure coming into a typical match day is high and with social media and newspapers analysing every detail, professional footballers will no doubt be prone to overthinking situations.
It’s normal to feel that pressure, according to Dias, but in typical fashion, the former City captain turns that tension into a positive.
"I think the big question is; can you turn it into good nerves or bad nerves?" he says. "Bad nerves might cause you to make wrong decisions and be out of focus. But good nerves are good. It makes you run more. It makes you jump more. It gives you extra focus."
He added: "And normally, I have no problem with it (social media). Obviously, some people are mean and they can talk nonsense but after you've been in the game for a while, you get used to it.
"I think you need to have the capacity and the understanding to know what comments you should actually give importance to. To keep your sanity and peace of mind, you need to know the opinions you actually value most. If you listen to everyone, you end up losing yourself."
Dias has a small circle of people he can trust, including his father, Joao, who calls his son after every game.
"My family has played an important part in my journey, especially my father," Ruben says. "He's always been a voice of reason in my head. We speak a lot. For example, after games, we always have a conversation about my performance and we sometimes don’t agree with each other, which is good.
"Sometimes we fight because of a certain moment in the game or something that's happened in my life. It’s good to have someone around you that can say no. The higher you go in your career, the easier it is to have ‘yes’ people. You need a person who understands your game and personality away from football. When you know that person understands the situation, it's good to sometimes receive a no."
Every detail is important in the post-match process. He will jump into an ice bath before getting more physiotherapy to prevent injuries and when he gets home, Dias will analyse his overall game by watching a clip of his individual highlights after the majority of games.
He may, for example, focus on a specific piece of play because he "remembers" every mistake.
Then, on the morning after game day, Dias will visit the gym again. "I don't want to lay down on the bed and receive a massage," he says. "I like to be active and start rebuilding energy." There’s that word again. Energy.
So far this season, Dias has featured in all five of Manchester City’s league games as they prepare to defend their title with the relentless Pep Guardiola in charge.
The former Benfica defender, who spent 12 years with the Portuguese side after joining aged 11, hasn't played under many managers in his career to date but he knows how special the Spaniard has been in his journey so far.
"He is an extraordinary coach for two reasons," Dias begins. "The way he sees the game and how demanding he is. Every year, after winning everything, he's just there again with his idea. He demands the very best from us every single day. He is never satisfied. You might have pulled off ten actions in training that were perfect but if one thing wasn’t right, he will let you know. I think that makes you reach a different level; both as a team and as an individual."
Dias certainly has all the leadership qualities to become a manager when his playing days are over.
He is part of a five-man leadership group at City alongside Kevin de Bruyne, Kyle Walker, Rodri and Ilkay Gundogan, who has already stated his desire to enter into the world of management one day.
When asked about the possibility of completing his coaching badges, it sounds like Dias has put some serious thought into the idea.
"That's a good question," he says. "Eventually, when I come to the end of my career, I want to have the option but I think it's a question no one can answer at this moment. When the footballer ends his career, how will you feel with the loss of adrenaline? How will you feel about the loss of the daily routine? Will you be able to adapt to doing nothing outside of football when you’re so disconnected from the game?
"To be able to continue into a coaching career in football is always a good position to be in. I'll probably do my best to be ready for it and to have both decisions in my hands. And then when the time comes, let's see how I feel… let's see how I feel without football, without my routine. I think only by then I will have my answer.
“But definitely, I think that it's something you should be prepared for. I’m thinking about taking some coaching qualifications in the future but for now, I want to focus on playing."
That drive to succeed is non-stop for Dias and at just 25 years of age, the talented centre-back has plenty more trophy-laden seasons ahead of him. For now though, he is desperate to make history with City in the coming months after an impressive start to the campaign.
"I think my personal ambitions go together with our collective goal as a club," he says. "We need to go for everything again. It's the ambition of the club and the staff. The ambition of the players is to fight for everything. We know that it's not going to be easy. The rhythm will be high and we’ll need to be on a very, very good level to be able to keep pushing.
“To be at this level, you cannot have false ambition. Either you're ambitious, or you cannot stay here for long. I believe everyone at Manchester City has a lot of ambition. What I wish for myself is what I wish for the team, and what I want for myself is what I want for the team.
"If the team wins, we all win. No matter your playing time. Every time the team wins, everyone wins a little bit more."
Featured Image Credit: Instagram/@rubendias
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