Transfer market mystery why Man United target Ruben Dias is still at Benfica

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Football’s transfer market often moves in mysterious ways.

From wondering why your favourite club has splashed out on a target they, seemingly, don’t need, to pulling your hair out as an obvious signing to improve their fortunes remains ignored. For fans, the summer months can be a confusing – and aggravating – time.

In Sport360’s ‘Transfer Market Mystery’ series, we attempt to delve into some of the glaring scenarios and work out what is going on.

Our first case under the microscope – with help from WhoScored.com statistics – is promising Portugal centre-back Ruben Dias staying put at Benfica:

THE SITUATION

Dias’ strong performances for club and country have drawn links to Juventus, Real Madrid and – most persistently – Manchester United.

The situation is also made pressing by the fact that the Primeira Liga champions are eagerly trying to agree a contract extension that will raise the 22-year-old’s release clause from a tempting €66 million, to an exorbitant €88m. This demand would eclipse the fee asked by Ajax for Netherlands prodigy Matthijs de Ligt and be equivalent to Leicester City’s world-record valuation of England centre-back Harry Maguire.

This potential complication saw United scouts attend Benfica’s friendly with Anderlecht on Wednesday amid the continuation of negotiations for Dias, according to Correio da Manha.

WHY HE SHOULD BE ON THE MOVE

Dias’ quality has shone through from an early age.

The Amadora-native has been a fixture in the Portugal national teams since the Under-16s, going on to make 11 senior appearances by his early 20s. His breakthrough season at Benfica also came in 2015/16, when he was aged just 18.

Standout attributes for Dias are aerial prowess and proficiency in possession. His average aerials won in 2018/19 of 3.2 was the joint-fifth highest for Aguias, plus three goals scored showcases a serious threat from set-pieces.

Dias’ average pass accuracy of 86.3 per cent from 58.3 passes per game was also the best of anyone at the club who made more than 30 top-flight appearances.

This fine form was taken into the Nations League. Only he and Real Betis defensive midfielder William Carvalho started all six matches for the eventual champions.

Both the fee and wages to secure such an emergent talent would be far less than the predicted packages for De Ligt and Maguire. The presence of an achievable release clause also makes talks simpler.

At 22, Dias’ performance levels and price tag should only rise in future.

WHY HE ISN’T

Dias’ relative youth is both positive and negative.

This dichotomy is exemplified by a propensity to make fouls. Dias picked up 10 Primeira Liga bookings last term, four more than any club-mate, at an average of 1.6 fouls per match.

In comparison, Maguire drew six bookings at an average of 0.6 fouls per Premier League fixture and De Ligt received one booking at an average of 0.7 fouls per Eredivisie match.

These statistics place Dias into a similar bracket with Fiorentina and Serbia’s Nikola Milenkovic. The 21-year-old earned seven bookings in Serie A at an average of 1.8 fouls per game.

He would, however, cost approximately €15m less to purchase, is five months younger and is almost 10 centimetres taller at 1.95 metres. Plus, Milenkovic offers greater versatility as a functional right-back.

View this post on Instagram

Estamos de volta! #pelobenfica @slbenfica

A post shared by Ruben Gato Dias (@rubendias) on

This raw side means that Dias benefits most from a senior partner. Club-mate Jardel, 33, and international colleague Pepe, 36, are currently required to bring out the best in him.

For United, they need such a seasoned figure to complement the promise of – Dias ex-Benfica team-mate – Sweden’s Victor Lindelof and Ivory Coast’s Eric Bailly.

Juve also prioritised the signature of natural leader De Ligt over Dias.

CONCLUSION

There are few centre-backs available on the market this summer who can compare to Dias.

He’s certain to be a fixture in the Portugal XI for the next decade and a prominent figure in European club football. Scouting departments across the continent will rave about his characteristics.

But is this state of affairs enough to make him – at the time of writing – the third-most expensive centre-back in football history?

Benfica exhibited this month with the €126m deal that took 19-year-old forward Joao Felix to Atletico Madrid that they will steadfastly stick to the release clauses in their players’ contracts.

Learned minds must determine whether Dias is doable at the figures mentioned. The case is not clear-cut.

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