Maybe it is his somewhat stocky build. Maybe it is his decision to keep his private life absolutely private. Or maybe it is that other team-mates hog the limelight so much that he just shrugs and gets on quietly with his job. But Manchester City and Republic of Ireland defender Richard Dunne must be doing something right- he has won the title of City's Player of the Year an incredible three times in a row and regularly delivers match-winning performances. It's about time Dunne received the praise he so rightly deserves.
Dunne started his career at Irish club Home Farm, an Irish Premier League club that has links with Everton as a sort of feeding ground for young talent, and he was the first player to come over to England through their set-up. On his arrival, in 1994, he went on to become the youngest play to play a first team match at Goodison Park, when Joe Royle started Dunne in an F.A. Cup tie against Swindon at the age of 17.
Dunne enjoyed a successful period at Everton, notching up 81 appearances in four seasons at the club. As a defender he displayed maturity beyond his years, delivering reliable, disciplined performances every week. But he was struggling with his weight and at the time enjoyed the social scene that came with being a footballer. He was fined two weeks wages for missing the first training session of the new Millennium, in 2000, and his relationship with Walter Smith soured as a result of this. Despite this, his transfer to Manchester City came as somewhat of a surprise to Toffee fans.
At the time, rumours were circulating that the reason he was sold by then-Everton manager Smith was that he made a joke on the return from a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Bristol Rovers in the League Cup. Whether this is true or not remains irrelevant. He signed for City in October 2000 for £3 million by the same manager who gave him his first professional contract- Joe Royle.
Dunne's City debut took place at the Dell, the former home of Southampton, in a 2-0 away win. He immediately formed a defensive partnership with Steve Howey and worked hard to establish himself. However he faced constant battles with his weight and his exhuberent lifestyle, and in the 2002/03 season arrived at a training session in a 'dishevelled state'. At the time, manager Kevin Keegan did consider terminating his contract, but instead offered to help him overcome his problems. He was sent home- and returned to the squad a couple of months later following an intensive training schedule.
But it was the 2003/04 season that seemed to be the breakthrough for Dunne. He worked hard to improve his fitness levels and forced his way into the City side. By January he was a regular in the first team and developed an instant rapport with fellow defender Sylvain Distin. City fans were certainly impressed with his efforts- despite the odd blooper Dunne was commanding the back line with consistent displays. He had put the considerable effort in to make himself fit and had put his partying ways behind him- and was being rewarded for his efforts.
Since then, Dunne has proved to be a superb, consistent centre back. His blocking, tackling and movement is phenomenal; he has learned to use his deceptive stocky build to his advantage as opposition strikers remain shocked at the pace he possesses. Since Distin's departure he has forged a new partnership with Micah Richards - and together the two look unstoppable. He scored a thunderbolt left-footed strike against Charlton in February 2006 that endeared him to the fans even more. I have met Dunne a couple of times and what struck me was how shy and modest he remains, despite his success and popularity.
Dunne is a worthy captain and regularly contributes match-winning performances, through crucial tackles and successful man-marking. His never-say-die attitude has made him one of City fan's most popular players in the sky blue shirt. He thrives in the ever-competitive derby games with neighbours Manchester United; acting as a warrior, acquiring numerous 'war wounds' during battle. He has also enjoyed a successful international career, earning 39 caps and scoring 5 goals since his debut in 1998.
So what next for the 28 year-old Republic of Ireland international? Reports are contrasting: some say that Dunne is stalling on his contract, and that former manager Keegan is ready to swoop in to take him to the North East. But others state that Eriksson is ready to offer Dunne £45,000 a week four-year deal, rewarding Dunne's loyalty and performances. Whatever the outcome, it is certain that Eriksson would be foolish to let him go- and would struggle to find a replacement of the same quality.