When it was announced that Louis van Gaal would become the new Manchester United manager, a lot of fans would have expected a red revolution was upon them.
Van Gaal’s relative success during the World Cup in Brazil, where he reached third place as manager of the Dutch national team, only added to the excitement. Come August, people were ready for the impending transfers that had undoubtedly been worked on for much of the summer.
But apart from Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw—both of whom had been targets under Moyes—and Marcos Rojo, they haven’t come, and with less than two weeks to go until the transfer window closes, quick and decisive action is now needed.
Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal is still mentioned a lot around Manchester among many others, as per FourFourTwo's Greg Johnson, but so is Real Madrid’s Angel Di Maria, via Nicholas Rigg of The Independent. But while these two players would undoubtedly give United the quality injection they desperately crave, one of the most useful signings the Red Devils could make this summer would be Ajax’s Daley Blind.
Having played an important role in the Netherlands’ successful World Cup campaign, Blind will surely be buzzing with confidence at the moment. What’s more: As last year’s Eredivisie Player of the Year, it’s more than likely the player is up for a new challenge in one of Europe’s biggest leagues.
But most importantly, Blind has the capabilities to solve multiple positional problems for Manchester United. A versatile player, developed at Ajax’s famous youth academy, he can play at left-back, centre-back and as a defensive midfielder.
During his first year in Ajax’s first team, Blind played almost exclusively as a left-back. He wasn’t immediately successful. Troubled by the pressures that come with playing in Ajax’s first team, Blind needed some time to make the necessary adjustments in his game and evolve from a youth player into a mature and all-round senior.
Ajax loaned Blind out to FC Groningen for half a season. After returning to Amsterdam, he spent some time playing for Ajax’s reserves, and it wasn’t until December 2010, when manager Martin Jol made way for new boss Frank de Boer in December 2010, that his fortunes started changing.
Like Pep Guardiola did with Bayern Munich full-back Philipp Lahm, De Boer converted Blind into a defensive midfielder after Vurnon Anita’s departure to Newcastle United. Now able to exert his influence from a deep position in midfield, Blind started developing into one of Ajax’s most important players.
However, his tactical transformation did not mean he could no longer play as a left-back. Ahead of the World Cup, and after former captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s retirement, the Netherlands manager Van Gaal was in desperate need of a left-back. Blind was the ideal candidate.
In Brazil, the Ajax man played as a left wing-back in Van Gaal’s 5-3-2 formation. As became apparent when he set up Robin van Persie’s wonder goal during the Oranje’s group-stage match against Spain, Blind was one of the players whom the Dutch tactical setup worked through.
Later on in the tournament, Blind played as one of the Netherlands’ three centre-backs, teaming up with Stefan de Vrij and Ron Vlaar, and indeed, at the base of midfield, providing some positional intelligence right next to tough-tackler Nigel de Jong.
Van Gaal’s Manchester United
At Manchester United, Van Gaal has implemented the very same 5-3-2 formation, and as became apparent during the World Cup, Blind can play in different positions in this formation.
A 5-3-2 utilises two deep, central midfielders and one No. 10. While Juan Mata seems like the ideal candidate for the latter position, newcomer Herrera will probably get to play behind him. Should he come to United, Blind can partner up with Herrera to add some defensive solidity to a relatively offensive midfield setup.
But with Shaw, who is touted as Evra’s successor, out injured, Van Gaal could also decide to use Blind as a left-back. United obviously need another player who can play in this position, as we saw during the club’s preparatory campaign, when winger Ashley Young—who has little defensive experience—was forced to play there.
Then, there’s the position of centre-back. Playing three at the back, Van Gaal will need another central defender, particularly a left-footed one. Should the Dutch boss ever decide to switch back to a 4-3-3 or a 4-4-2, Blind can simply be moved to another position.
This, then, seems to be the Ajax man’s biggest strength. Depending on the way a match develops and the tactical changes Van Gaal decides to implement mid-action, Blind can be moved around the pitch. Contrary to what sometimes happens to other players, this doesn’t seem to phase Blind much: From one minute to the next, he can easily adjust his focus to a different task.
Manchester United are in desperate need of multiple players, for multiple decisions. Signing Blind would be like signing three of the players the club needs at once. He would be the perfect utility man for a squad in need of fixing.
Most importantly, though, United would sign one of the most talented young Dutch players around.