The image of Robin van Persie sprinting, albeit quite slowly, to high five Louis van Gaal upon scoring a stunning headed equalizer in Holland’s 5-1 demolition of defending champions Spain would have heartened Manchester United fans to no end, giving them a glimpse of things to come at Old Trafford next season. However, it was another one of Van Gaal’s disciples and a potential United target, Daley Blind, who really stole the show, and the adaptable Ajax man would make one heck of a signing if Ed Woodward can work out a deal for the 24-year old left-back this summer.
Two For The Price Of One
One of Blind’s biggest selling points is his positional flexibility; he has the ability to play as a holding midfielder as well as an attacking left wingback, which is his usual starting position in Van Gaal’s 3-5-2 formation. It is impossible to ignore comparisons to another great fullback-turned-midfielder Phillip Lahm, and at just 24 years of age, Blind has a long way ahead of him to fulfill his potential and justify any links to the German great.
His flexibility is evidenced by his playing record with Ajax; in the 2012/13 season, he made 46 appearances at left-back which won him the Ajax Player of the Year award and he followed that up with 44 appearances as a holding midfielder in the 2013/14 season, culminating with him winning the Dutch Footballer of the year Award for 2014.
Influence on Play[caption id="attachment_55003" align="alignnone" width="575"] Courtesy Opta Stats[/caption]
Although he was already one of Ajax’s most influential players at leftback, his switch to the middle of the park, similar to Steven Gerrard’s role at Liverpool, increased his control on proceedings as evidenced by some of the performances he put on over the course of the season. He made more tackles (77) than any one of his teammates, and made a mind-blowing 76 interceptions in just 29 league matches last year. He is also solid defensively, with only a single defensive error committed over the course of the entire season.
He is an excellent passer of the ball, the kind United sorely missed under Moyes, successfully completing over 1700 passes over the season with an accuracy rate of 88%. On top of that, 61% of those passes were forward passes made towards attacking zones, which imply an underlying ability to start attacks. In a United midfield that was constantly criticized of passing the ball sideways and an over reliance on crosses, Blind offers a genuine midfield playmaker who can start attacks quickly while remaining a solid option in front of the back four. Even as leftback primarily, his stats as a central midfielder compare well with those of Michael Carrick, who is currently at the heart of the Red Devil’s midfield.[caption id="attachment_55006" align="aligncenter" width="321"] Blind vs Carrick[/caption]
Age and Value for Money
Van Gaal is renowned for his ability to get the best out of youngsters on his teams, and the 24 year old Daley Blind would be able to complete his footballing education under the Dutchman at United, and subsequently give the club his best years as a footballer. He would be a significant upgrade on an ageing Patrice Evra and at left-back, he will be a considerably cheaper option than whatever Southampton asks for 19 year old Luke Shaw, which will give United additional funds to spend on the centre of defense and midfield. He will also not command the same wages as some of the other players, and Woodward will look to keep costs down especially in a season (at the very least) without European football at Old Trafford.
The Dutch Connection[caption id="attachment_55002" align="aligncenter" width="487"] Chances Created vs Spain[/caption]
And of course, Blind’s understanding with both his manager and RVP up front in United’s setup can be crucial to the Red Devil’s getting into groove right away, something they will be anxious to do under the new boss. His link up play with the rest of the Dutch team in a fluid counter attacking setup bamboozled the Spanish midfield, creating 4 chances in total, 2 of which were pinpoint crosses from the left flank which both ended in goals for the Oranje. It’s possible that Louis van Gaal also tries to bring Stefan de Vrij to Old Trafford next season to shore up the defense, so look for United to have a distinctly Dutch feel to their play next term.
Probability Meter: High. Paying £10-12 million for Blind over the £25-40 mn for Luke Shaw would represent a bargain buy, and he is a realistic target that United can obtain with little to no fuss. He’s young, fills a gap in the United defense (and midfield) and has experience under the manager; this should really be a no-brainer.
Daley Blind stats via the excellent Squawka.com