They say one man’s trash is another’s gold, and while Jose Mourinho may have found limited use for Daley Blind during his time at Old Trafford, that doesn’t negate the fact the versatile Dutchman is a quality player.
This is, after all, one of the top performers of the 2014 World Cup we’re talking about, who has represented an admittedly out-of-sorts Netherlands side on 52 occasions and played a key role in Manchester United’s biggest successes of the post-Ferguson era; making 18 appearances in both competitions combined as the Red Devils lifted an FA Cup under Louis van Gaal and the Europa League title last season.
In Premier League terms, Blind comes with one obvious drawback in comparison to the rest of the division, and it’s a criticism that has existed since his Ajax days; for a player employed in predominantly defensive positions, he lacks natural physicality – measuring in at under 6 foot, and not particularly quick or powerful.
But in some ways, that only highlights what Blind’s greatest traits are and how he’s overcome the inherent flaw of modest physicality to still be a useful asset the highest level of the game. In addition to impressive technical quality when in possession – his assist for Robin van Persie’s diving header the last World Cup being perhaps the most prevalent example – he’s a fantastically clever player as well. He reads the game impeccably, both in terms of intercepting opposition attacks and distributing the ball to the right place at the right time, and there is consequently an efficient simplicity to his style of play – a consistency, continuity and reliability.
Michael Carrick once dubbed him the master of games within games, and during his first few seasons at Old Trafford many actually tipped him to eventually succeed the retiring England international at the base of United’s midfield. But Blind’s skill set has allowed him to impress as a left-back, a wing-back and even a centre-half as well, and that’s exactly why Everton should be taking a vested interest in the 28-year-old’s future ahead of the summer transfer window.
One of the most recurring sources of frustration at Everton this season has been the left-hand side of the defence. Cuco Martina, far from an exceptional player anyway, has filled in on his less-fancied flank for the majority of the season, while no Toffees centre-back has shrouded themselves in glory this term. Blind can help address both of those voids, but the one at No.3 is particularly significant.
For all the concern over Everton’s recent performances under Sam Allardyce, the Toffees produced an improved display on Saturday at home to Brighton as they welcomed Leighton Baines back to the starting XI for the first time since November and the much-needed balance he brought to the side, improving them defensively and offensively, was obvious. Baines timely overlapped Yannick Bolasie for the first goal, creating the space for the winger to drift inside and deliver a cross that Gaetan Bong put past Mat Ryan, and then directly assisted the second which Cenk Tosun rifled home.
The problem though, is Baines’ durability over the course of a season. This season is the second from three campaigns which have been severely disrupted by injury and at the age of 33, that problem won’t go away – it’s likely to only get worse. For how influential Baines has been throughout his Everton career and for how pivotal he will likely be in providing a positive end to a disappointing 2017/18, it’s clear the Goodison outfit need to start thinking about life without the England international regularly in the side.
Blind would be an ideal successor. Although he lacks the dynamism that has come to define the vast majority of full-backs in the Premier League, particularly in the top half, he has the technical quality to mimic – if not completely replicate – what Baines gives to Everton from the left-hand side, and his ability to provide functional performances in a variety of roles makes him a better fit for Allardyce’s philosophy than some might initially assume. His experience at top level too, could be a huge asset for a team looking to break into that calibre of club in the coming years.
More pertinently, perhaps, Blind will be available this summer. United extended his contract by a further twelve months in January, but that was only to protect the utility man’s selling value and Mirror Football have openly claimed the Red Devils will look to cash in during the next transfer window, the club hoping to recoup their original £14million investment. Transfermarkt value him slightly higher at £18million, so a fee somewhere between those two benchmarks is highly likely to get a deal over the line.
For a player of impressive Ajax pedigree, who has already lifted silverware in English football, helped light up a World Cup and is amid his peak years at the age of 28, that feels like an exceptionally modest price to pay in the current transfer market.
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