Cast your minds back to July 2019 and you may recall Wolves had big ambitions.
Nuno Santo’s team had just qualified for the Europa League and they were planning to follow that up by making some big-name signings.
Tim Spiers reported at the time that one player on their radar was Ruben Dias. The link certainly made sense. He was Portuguese and his agent is Jorge Mendes, the intermediary in charge of not only Nuno but a plethora of players on Wolves’ books.
If anyone could lure a player of Dias’ calibre to Molineux it was Mendes. Ultimately, Wolves were put off by Benfica’s £50m asking price.
That, however, would have been a mere snip. The centre-back stayed in Portugal that season but eventually signed for Manchester City a year later in a deal costing them £64m.
Since coming to English football, he has been breathtaking. Pep Guardiola’s defence was a huge reason for concern last term. They had repeated injuries and had failed to replace the departed Vincent Kompany.
Yet, in 2020/21, Dias has turned them back into title contenders. City are top of the table and they owe much of that to their new central defender. He has helped the club to keep 13 clean sheets in the Premier League from just 19 outings. It’s an astonishing record and it’s hardly a surprise that Guardiola’s waxed lyrical about the 23-year-old.
He said in January: “He is a guy that can play every three days. He recovers immediately and his ability is incredible, as is his understanding of the game.”
How Wolves could do with a player like that now. Their defence has been nothing short of shambolic this term. The Old Gold have kept only a solitary clean sheet since October and club captain Conor Coady is enduring a rough time.
His ability to play in a back four as opposed to a back three is questionable and that was evident when he gave away a penalty against West Brom. What followed was Nuno substituting him for the first time in his Wolves career.
It was a landmark moment for Coady, someone whose England aspirations are surely taking a hit. Though, had they signed Dias, it’s hard to suggest Wolves’ defence wouldn’t have improved.
Dias has very quickly become one of the biggest defensive forces in the Premier League and has unquestionably been worth the money City paid.
He could have been Wolves’ in 2019 if they coughed up the money. It’s easy to say in hindsight that Shi should have invested but it’s growing increasingly evident that this was a massive howler from the Old Gold owner.