Not good enough for Man Utd? Daley Blind having last laugh with Ajax heroes

The Dutchman has a Champions League final in sight with his boyhood club, having put a disappointing spell at Old Trafford well behind him

Twelve months ago, if you told Manchester United fans that Daley Blind would be playing in a Champions League semi-final this week, ‘crazy’ may be among the kinder insults thrown at you.

Blind’s struggles at Old Trafford meant a summer transfer was always expected, one that would be a step down - and his return to Ajax was seen as exactly that.

Yet, while Paul Pogba and co. will watch the battle for Europe’s ultimate prize from the comfort of their own homes, the 29-year-old United reject will take on Tottenham for a place in the Champions League final.

While he has certainly been an integral part of this Ajax side, that's not to suggest that Blind has been an outstanding performer, by any means.

But when the Amsterdam club splashed out a surprising €16m (€13.9m/$17.9m) last summer, it was not for his title-winning ability – but his title-winning experience.

It was the same reason Ajax spent €11.4m (£9.8m/$12.8m) on another supposed Premier League player past their best – Dusan Tadic.

“They have brought in extra quality to the team, but they have also added experience. The balance of the team is far stronger,” Ronald de Boer explained to the Evening Times.

“Ajax are much more mature with Tadic, Blind and also [Nicolas] Tagliafico. That has been invaluable.

“That mixture is working very well. If you compare it to our time in 1995 it was basically the same. We had Frank Rijkaard and Danny Blind, but the rest of us were young guys."

Daley is now following in the footsteps of his Champions League winning father, being one of the experienced heads in a youthful squad making waves in the competition – one with just three players over the age of 30, and many still in their teens.

Overmars Blind quote PS

One of those youngsters is Matthijs de Ligt, Ajax’s captain and Blind’s 19-year-old centre-back partner, who looks likely to follow team-mate Frenkie de Jong in joining Barcelona this summer.

The Netherlands international’s stock has risen dramatically over the last few months, and that is in no small part down to the man next to him.

“[Blind’s signing] was important for Matthijs, because I knew that Matthijs liked to play with Daley at the Dutch team,” director of football Marc Overmars explained, even admitting that Ajax “paid way too much” to United because they were so keen to sign him.

It’s crazy to think that this is the same player that was constantly slammed during his time in England.

"To win games of football with Blind and [Marcos] Rojo at centre-half, [Manchester United] almost need to score three goals,” Paul Scholes once said.

“They look like they are going to give goals away all the time. They don't sense danger, they've got no pace, they don't get physical against people.”

Leaving the physicality of England behind has helped Blind be a success at Ajax, as has the consistency in his playing position after he was shifted around the team at Old Trafford.

“I can still play at left-back and in midfield, but right now I feel good at centre-back,” he told NOS during his second season with United.

“It’s wonderful to have the game in front of me and be a part of building from the back with my forward passes to start attacks.”

top 5 ajax mins PS

Add to those factors that he is playing for a club who already adore him for the trophies he – and his father – have won for them, it’s no surprise to see Blind rediscovering the form that made United sign him in the first place.

Per game in the Champions League, Blind has won more tackles, made more interceptions and committed fewer fouls than De Ligt. That’s not to suggest he’s more talented than his defensive partner, but to stress just how well he’s settled back in at his boyhood club.

Furthermore, Ajax’s philosophy is much more technical than that of Louis van Gaal's or Jose Mourinho’s. It’s more suited to Blind’s main strength – passing.

“As he is naturally a midfielder, he has that passing range and ability down to a tee,” Chris Smalling once said of his then team-mate.

“He brings a lot to our defensive line in being able to play the ball out and cut through teams.”

And what about the defensive frailties he was castigated for in England? Well, to put it simply, it’s easier to look good when you have the best young defender on the planet next to you, rather than Phil Jones.

“Matthijs and I feel good about each other,” Blind told Algemeen Dagblad. “I reach a high level in the Champions League matches – that feels good.”

Having reached a high enough level to beat the reigning champions, Real Madrid, and then Mr Champions League, Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo, there isn’t much higher Blind and Ajax can go.

If he and De Ligt can maintain that level for three more games, Daley could emulate father Danny, who guided the Dutch club to an incredible European triumph in 1995.

“Maybe [my father] is getting a little worried right now,” Blind laughed – but, with players of his experience and De Ligt’s talent, Ajax’s chances are no joke.