Daniel Lee takes a look at the importance of Daley Blind, Manchester United’s silent catalyst.
Watching Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford and Zlatan Ibrahimović roam around the Old Trafford pitch during Manchester United’s four-goal, first-half destruction of the reigning Premier League champions it was tempting to conclude that this was the most satisfying United result of the post-Ferguson era.
Though, even with that influx of mesmeric attacking talent on the pitch, haply the most contributory figure on the pitch was a player whose excellence often tends to go unnoticed.
Daley Blind ; United’s cool head at the back. A player who puts out the fires that you didn’t even know had started. An evolved centre-back with a magic wand of a left-foot. A saunterer, not a sprinter. Oh, and then there’s that hair, the trademark Daley Blind hair. The kind of hair that looks impossibly perfect after long flights.
Because Blind isn’t necessarily a highlight-reel player, he seems destined to be forever disregarded and overlooked. It’s highly improbable you’ll find any of his best moments of brilliance captured in some grainy gif or vine, scattered across the social media sphere.
It seems intriguing to think that mere months ago Daley Blind faced a doom-laden United future, without a kick of a ball, his short-lived spell in Manchester was seemingly heading towards an untimely end, following the arrival of Mr. Mourinho. But, the Dutchman has enjoyed a fine start to life under the new manager and all is “going great” if his words are anything to go by.
If the majority of people disfavour Blind, those who have experienced working with him are not among them. They commend him, going one step further – they value him.
“He deserves more plaudits and I think he will get them if he carries on playing the way he is playing. Everyone is standing up and taking note that Daley is one of the mainstays of this team and he is keeping us ticking,” said his teammate Chris Smalling, in April.
As Smalling puts it, Blind keeps United ticking. He is the puppet master of this United side, because with great hair comes even great responsibility; moving his teammates around the pitch from the heart of the defence, penetrating defensive lines and launching attacks from deep. The more you watch Blind, the more he impresses. And, only now are his exploits truly being recognized.
But, what his most vociferous cynics and disparagers forget, is that Daley Blind is no Robert Huth or Ryan Shawcross, he is a component of a rare breed of centre-back; the playmaking centre-back – the focus of all creativity in the side. A player who puts the emphasis on aesthetic, as opposed to athletic. Bucking the trend, he’s marked a shift away from the traditional robust, no-nonsense English centre-back. Dispelling any theories that a centre-back’s sole purpose was to steamroll the opposing striker.
Last Saturday, Blind was involved in three of his side’s four. The first – an inch-perfect cross, an outswinger, from a corner, found Chris Smalling at the back post, who neatly nodded home. The second was a goal that perfectly encapsulates his supreme footballing acumen. Instead of whipping in another one of his inviting balls, Blind decided to play a low-ball into the feet of the deft Juan Mata, who flashed the ball across the face of goal for Marcus Rashford to pound in to the roof of the net from close-range. The third was seemingly another routine worked straight off the Aon Carrington training complex. A cross fired into Pogba, who rose highest, to direct a bullet header past a helpless Robert Zieler.
Leicester’s unspeakable defending played a hand – but Blind’s contribution was obvious, actually, perhaps a better adjective to describe his performance would be discounted, on the grounds that despite Blind’s display, a performance of great industry and productivity, Blind wasn’t even considered for the official man-of-the-match reward. The award is quite usually deceptive, but to not even be regarded as a nominee was quite extraordinary, but in the case of Blind, expected.
Blind completed four tackles – the most out of any United player, but it’s unlikely you can recollect the majority of them. Along with Paul Pogba, Blind also created the most chances. Lurking closely to Riyad Mahrez, the PFA player’s player of the year was kept quiet, subsequently being hauled off at half-time. Mahrez was informed of his fate within the first 60 seconds of the game. Blind dug the ball out from beneath Mahrez’s feet as the Algerian attempted to dribble past him. The markers were laid down.
Aged 26, it only feels like yesterday when Daley Blind famously fired that mouth-watering diagonal ball to assist Robin van Persie in scoring the goal now recognised as ‘The Flying Dutchman’. Steadily maturing, developing, progressing, though, it has hindered him slightly, having to take such a substantial period of time to realize his position, to cement his place, but that’s taking nothing away from the player he is today.
At United he is the smooth central cog in the machine, you may not think it, but he is. Only Marouane Fellaini and Pogba have completed more passes for the side, only Antonio Valencia and Fellaini have completed more tackles. Like a housekeeper, he’s constantly cleaning the mess and picking up the pieces left behind.
In a team of full flashy toys, Daley Blind is the Lego. Few toy brands are as underappreciated but as consistent as Lego. Precision-made, machine-made, accurate to the millimetre. Daley Blind; the guy often overlooked and uncredited but silently playing the catalysing role for Manchester United.