Can Daley Blind rejuvenate his career at Ajax?
Ajax signed Daley Blind from Manchester United for a reported €16 million. Blind returned to the club where his senior career began, agreeing to a pay cut to find regular football.
Blind joined Manchester United following an incredible World Cup campaign in 2014 that added Netherlands Footballer of the Year to his Eredivisie Player of the Year award.
He followed his World Cup boss, Louis van Gaal, to Old Trafford. They'd worked closely, alerting LvG to Blind's sheer class. In that first season, he played 25 games split between defensive midfield and left back. In 2015-16, he became the regular starter in the latter position, his play causing fans to forget he'd earned comparisons to Nemanja Matic when occupying the holding role. His excellence on the ball helped the Reds initiate attacks from the back. Many fans ranked him just below David de Gea for performance.
When Jose Mourinho arrived, Blind fell down the pecking order. Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof gave the Portuguese further defensive options, decreasing Blind's game time. Ashley Young shifted into the left-back position while Blind provided cover at centre-back. The Dutchman played a major part in the Europa League campaign, making ten appearances in that competition, including a bittersweet victory over Ajax.
Lacking pace and physicality, Blind never fit into Mourinho's plans. Last season, he made only seven appearances.
At 28, Blind is at his power's peak. He needed minutes Mourinho would never provide. Reduced to a utility man like Darren Fletcher and John O'Shea before him, he followed their lead in looking elsewhere for a more integral role.
How can he help Ajax?
Ajax spent wisely. Blind is a classic Dutch footballer, possessing strong positioning, keen vision and instinctive moves. He can play as a centre-back, left-back or in midfield. While he lacks the modern left-back's pace, his crossing ability and eye for a pass outweigh his deficiencies.
Blind can also play as a regista. In midfield, he sits deep, the game playing out before him. He keeps a cool head, seldom making the wrong choice. The man is also a set-piece wizard.
Ajax manager Erik ten Hag prefers him in an even deeper role, partnering the calm, composed veteran with young Matthijs de Ligt in central defence. Blind started Ajax's opening Eredivisie matches, a draw with Heracles and a win over VVV Venlo. He also played in Champions League qualifying against Standard Liege and Dynamo Kyiv. Ajax hold a 3-1 advantage over the Ukrainians going into the away leg, going the distance in all three matches.
Fantastic from the back, Blind maintained a 94% passing accuracy, making 85 passes per 90. He helped Hakim Ziyech and Frenkie de Jong build the attack, acting as a pressure release valve when opposing forwards pressed high.
Blind's experience is key to Ten Hag's project. He has at least two seasons in his prime before him. At the AmsterdamArena, he can put his skills to good use proving his value to a top club with championship ambitions.