Even if you fall on your face, you’re still moving forward
Retrospectively, these words are the best match to former Ajax “Golden Boy” Daley Blind. Son of Ajax legend and Champions League winning Captain Danny Blind, Daley carried a burden of expectations from a very early age. A product of the famed Ajax academy, he rose through the ranks of the club and established himself as one of the mainstays of the Ajax juniors side during the 2007-08 season. A lot was expected of the player and he did not disappoint. It wasn’t long before the youngster was offered his first professional contract as well as his first cap for the club.
Blind made his senior debut on 7th December, 2008 in an away tie against FC Volendam. And while that was thought of to be the debut of yet another exciting prospect, it wasn’t so simple. The youngster made just 5 appearances for the club before being shipped on a loan to Groningen in the latter half of the 2009-10 season. However, he did nothing to impress the management at Ajax and the club was ready to make the deal permanent only for Martin Jol to have a change of heart at the last minute and keep the player at the Amsterdam Arena.
Deployed at left-back on his return to the Arena, the player lacked confidence and failed to adapt to the pace and physicality of the game at the top level. As a result, he was constantly subjected to ridicule and jeering by the Ajax faithful. Despite being trained as a No. 6, the player was played as a left-back and established himself in the starting 11 at the club over the 2012-13 season and has gone from strength to strength ever since. His stellar performances as a left-back prompted the same set of fans that used to groan at the mention of his name to pick him as Ajax’s Player of the Year that 2012-13 season.
“Reinvented by De Boer” is the most common phrase used to describe the ascent of Blind and that’s a justified tag the Ajax manager has earned himself. Finally living up to the talent he was reckoned as lost a long while ago, he was set to feature as a left-back for the club in years to come. However, De Boer had other plans and it was the Dutchman who backed Blind to flourish in the defensive midfield role he was trained for by deploying him in that position over 2013-14 and he didn’t disappoint. He took to the position like a fish to water, ever so present and effective while deployed there. Such were his impressive performances that he was chosen the “Dutch Footballer of the Year”. His exploits for the club didn’t go unnoticed and has been a constant member of the Dutch squad since 2013.
His move to Manchester United very late into the recently concluded transfer window has been touted as the best piece of business the club has done. The lack of a world class defensive midfielder in the squad to control the game has been a matter of concern for most United fans. The signing of Blind should give them the required firepower in the middle of the park to improve their lacklustre performances over recent times.
Blind made more than 2 tackles per 90 minutes last season at a tackling efficiency of 50%. His peers at United weren’t as efficient as both Carrick and Fellaini averaged 46% success while the injury plagued Fletcher won just 36% of his tackles. While the player’s efficiency in terms of take-ons might pale in comparison to Carrick’s, it should also be taken into account that Blind attempted 22 take-ons through the season compared to Carrick’s 6. However, Pace isn’t counted as one of his strengths and it will take some deep resolve for the player to maintain this kind of take-on efficiency in the Premier League. On the other hand, aerial abilities are considered to be one of his major strengths and the player lives up to that billing, winning a more than impressive 66% of his aerial duels. On the whole, the player won a more than impressive 54% of his duels displaying an all-round ability to break up opposition attacks.
The player has been renowned for his ability to retain possession. He was dispossessed 0.6 times per match. While that might seem impressive, his peers Carrick and Fletcher were dispossessed at an even lower frequency of 0.5 per game. On the other hand, Fellaini was easily dispossessed averaging 1.4 dispossessions per game. Blind doesn’t possess a lot of pace and it is not surprising that he was dribbled past on 1.3 occasions per game. He accumulated these numbers in a much slower Eredivisie and it remains to be seen if he can maintain even these numbers in a much faster and physical Premier League.
The former Ajax man averaged 5 defensive actions per 90 minutes in the last season. His ability to read the game coupled with his extensive work rate has been the primary characteristics of his game. He was in the act on a frequent basis breaking down the moves of oppositions every 33 minutes. He makes frequent blocks too, averaging 1 every 4 full games which is by no measure a bad figure for a defensive midfielder. Though Fellaini beat everybody hands down in terms of clearances per 90 minutes, Blind has still racked up an impressive 2.64 clearances per 90 minutes. Blind made one defensive error which led to a goal. He is moving to United after the club has endured a tough season and errors could easily bring its own added pressure.
Often deployed at the tip of a triangle alongside his centre halves at Ajax, Blind dictated the tempo of the game sitting deep. He possesses a sound passing ability and completed 88% of his attempted passes. However, there isn’t a lot to differentiate the player from his peers in terms of passing accuracy. He averaged 5 long balls per game at Ajax and has shown the ability to and often looks to find people behind the oppositions defence with those. Mixing it up with his ability to find a teammate at various distances, he averaged more than 1.25 key passes every game, which is significantly higher than any of his peers at Old Trafford. In the process, he recorded a solitary assist. Blind likes to have a go at the goal from a distance as he demonstrated while at Ajax. However despite that he averaged 44% shot accuracy. His only goal of the season came against FC Utrecht via a long ranger. United are not a club lacking ammunitions at the front and the United manager as well as the fans would rather see Blind add solidarity to their defence than the odd goals.
Having been deployed as a left-back at the World Cup as well Ajax not too long ago; questions were raised about United buying another left-back after having acquired the services of Shaw and Rojo. Even the club legend Paul Scholes was sceptical of the abilities of Blind as a left-back, sighting his lack of pace as well his physical frailties. However, we envisage Blind in the midfield as being a defensive midfielder, where he can make up for his lack of pace.
The unfortunate injury troubles of Darren Fletcher as well as the inability of Fellaini to leave his mark on new surroundings prompted Van Gaal to look beyond England. While his numbers aren’t too different from those of Blind, Carrick, at 33 years of age, isn’t getting any younger. On the other hand, at just 24 years of age, Blind has enormous experience playing in the top flight and could easily develop into a force to reckon with under Van Gaal. He is also much better accustomed to the “Dutch” style of playing than either of the other three and would provide a plug-n-play solution for Van Gaal already struggling to adapt many others into his style.
Life has come a full circle for Daley so early in his footballing career. From almost being shipped to Groningen to being one of the most coveted players on the continent, he has seen it all. He has worked his way into the picture working on not only his technique but also his physical and mental toughness. The biggest test of his life awaits him in England. Should he endear himself to the United fans, he would have truly broken free of the shackles of having to live under another Blind’s shadow and established an identity of his own.
-Stats from Squawka and Whoscored