From Ajax reject to the Manchester United midfield: Daley Blind's incredible journey

The 24-year-old is set to complete a 17.5 million euro move from the Eredivisie champion to the Premier League giant, marking the latest step in an eventful career.
"I'm not too sure what position he is going to play in," Manchester United legend Paul Scholes pondered on BT Sport as he discussed the club’s new 17.5 million euro signing Daley Blind.

The former England international isn’t alone. There is a great deal of confusion surrounding the Amsterdam-born player and what role he really plays.

Unknown to the world outside of the Netherlands before the World Cup, it was a remarkable diagonal pass from the middle of the park and onto the head of the incoming Robin van Persie that saw him become a worldwide star. His displays as a left wing back in Louis van Gaal’s 5-3-2 in Brazil were excellent. They were also very misleading.

His assists for Van Persie and Arjen Robben in the 5-1 win over Spain showed his magnificent passing ability, but Spain’s failure to put any pressure on him on that side in both an attacking and a defensive sense meant he had an easy night.

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The versatility he showed in his willingness to slot in at center back and left back throughout the tournament is to be commended. However, in each game his weaknesses were well covered for by the system Van Gaal utilized as well as coming up against the likes of Mexico, which surrendered as soon as it took the lead, and Costa Rica, which had its first shot 117 minutes into the game.

Despite the World Cup campaign and the first five seasons he played in professional football, Blind’s best position is certainly not at left back or center back. He is a natural central midfielder.

Luckily, it seems Van Gaal has come to the conclusion that he cannot use Blind as anything but an anchor man.

"Daley will play in the first team in the center of midfield. Then it’s up to him if he stays there," agent Rob Jansen said Saturday, suggesting the coach has told the player he will slot into the starting XI in the center of the park immediately.

Blind is simply too slow for a left back and tends to switch off too frequently when it comes to defending. While he was rarely tested in this way during the World Cup, he will come under too much pressure in the Premier League.

As a central midfielder, though, he is much more adept and comfortable and it is here his great awareness and passing ability comes into effect. The speed of the Premier League will be the biggest obstacle for Blind to adapt to. However, with Angel di Maria, Juan Mata and Ander Herrera also lining up in midfield, the ideal way for Van Gaal to slot his compatriot into the team will be as a defensive midfielder in a diamond.

While this will stifle the attacking ability of the player who can add a lot to attacks when he presses forward and looks to pick out intelligent passes, it will see him set the tempo of United’s play and allow him to link up with the other talented midfielders.

Reliable | Blind is an intelligent midfielder who can read the game well 

Blind is no match-winner, game changer or world star. He is a subtle player. An intelligent, smooth and effective one.

As he puts it: "I'm not a player who scores a lot of goals in a season, I'm more of a team player. I can improve the performances of the other players."

That aspect of his game will be crucial as he looks to boost a United team without a win in four competitive matches. Ronald de Boer warned United fans not to expect an electrifying wold-beater, but insisted it was a great deal for all parties.

"The fans should not think they have won a Ronaldo here," he told Fox Sports. "Daley Blind is a team player who makes others play better. He makes everything look easy, but it's difficult. But he is not a player like Di Maria that can just skip past two men and score. He is a team player and they desperately need that."

One thing United fans will find endearing about Blind is his remarkable workrate both on the field and off of it. From the first minute to the last, the Netherlands international will give his all. But the move to Old Trafford comes as the ultimate reward for his work on a much bigger scale. Just a few years ago, the idea of him playing in the famous red of the Premier League giant seemed impossible.

There was a time in his career when it appeared he would not have a future at Ajax, let alone someday earning a big-money move to Manchester United to work with Van Gaal. After he emerged into the Ajax first team at 18 years old, Martin Jol believed he would never cut it at the prestigious Dutch side. However, Frank de Boer came to his rescue, replacing Jol and slotting Blind into the team, albeit as a left back.

The club’s fans hated him and felt no shame in relentlessly whistling and jeering him in the Amsterdam Arena. As far as they were concerned, he had no right to be wearing the famous red and white, even though he is the son of the legendary Danny Blind.

De Boer stuck by him, though, and the player’s belief in himself, the hard work, the paying attention to the lessons of the tactically excellent De Boer and his father saw Blind develop remarkably well.

In 2013, on the day Ajax was crowned champion for the third straight time, it celebrated on a stage in front of the fans outside the Amsterdam Arena. Amid the celebrations, the club’s end of season awards were given out and, incredibly, it was Blind who was announced as the Ajax player of the year.

That moment, the player who had felt the wrath of his own supporters, felt their embrace. "Daley Blind, who doesn’t know him? Daley Blind, Daley Blind is a real Ajax man," the chants rang out. A song usually reserved for the likes of De Boer and Johan Cruyff. He was a legend and his status would only increase.

Last season, De Boer pushed him from left back to the center of midfield, where he blossomed and became even more of a hero. Without him and Lasse Schone, Ajax may have surrendered the league title to Feyenoord. It was no surprise, then, that he was voted Eredivisie player of the year at the end of the campaign.

And now he steps even further, having gone from a reject of Jol to a savior of Ajax and Netherlands, winning four Eredivisie titles and a World Cup bronze medal along the way, before the making the move to Manchester United.

This, though, is just the beginning for Daley Blind as he takes yet another gargantuan leap.

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