A Double Blind Study

Image: SpursWeb

For the child of a former footballing star, a career in football will invariably be difficult. Jordi Cruyff, son of the legendary Johan Cruyff, began his career at Barcelona and Manchester United before retiring at the age of 36 in the Maltese Premier League with current champions Valletta. Pele’s son Edinho retired at age 29 after run-ins with the law in the 1990s and is currently serving 33 years for laundering drug money. The expectations often placed on the child from parents, supporters, journalists, and themselves ends up crippling the player’s development, their parent’s shadow haunting them every time they lace up their boots for a professional game.  This almost became the case of Daley Blind, the son of the former Ajax man and current Assistant coach of the Netherlands Dirk Franciscus “Danny” Blind. Danny Blind spent his entire career in the Eredivisie playing for Sparta Rotterdam before joining the Dutch giants Ajax. Blind won five Eredivisie titles and appeared in two UEFA Champions League finals winning one of them. Danny Blind captained the Ajax team to the victory in the 1995 Final on a team which included Edwin van der Sar, Clarence Seedorf, Frank Rijkaard, and the de Boer twins.

Daley Blind was five years old when his father hoisted the famous trophy and three years later he joined the youth academy of Ajax.

Versatility in football is not uncommon for a Dutchman. Ruud Guillit, the 1987 Ballon d’Or winner, played forward, midfielder, and defender during his career with PSV Eindhoven, AC Milan, and Chelsea. Frank Rijkaard played as a central defensive midfielder but was also a tactically intelligent center back. Ronald de Boer led the line for Ajax in the Champions League final but played in a deeper role when he joined the Dutch contingent with former Scottish greats Rangers. Danny Blind played left back, center back, and defensive midfielder for Ajax. In this vein, Daley Blind is following in his father’s footsteps. The younger Blind was promoted to the senior squad in 2008 and made his first appearance in December against FC Volendam. His career stuttered after he returned from a winter loan to FC Groningen in 2010. Former Managers Martin Jol and John van’t Schip did not entirely trust him and Blind only featured in 15 league games over three seasons for Ajax. Blind struggled during this time as Jol moved him across the pitch where he played right back, left back, center back, and at times defensive midfielder. However on December 6th, 2010 a familiar face would return in the form of Frank de Boer. The cultured center back had ended his globe-trotting career in Qatar four years prior before returning to the place he had been cultivated and as his name suggests (de Boer means “the farmer”) began planting the seeds for the development of Ajax’s youth. One such player that benefitted from the hiring of Frank de Boer is current Spurs center back Jan Vertonghen who has spoken openly about his admiration for the former La Liga champion. The younger de Boer twin also solidified the position of Daley Blind. From the winter of 2010 to the spring of 2014, Blind was reinstated in the starting XI and played over 80 league games. His play earned him plaudits, as he controlled the left flank for Ajax earning the AFC Ajax Player of the Year during the 2012-13 season. At the beginning of the 2013 season, de Boer began flirting with the idea of Blind as a central defensive midfielder. Similar to the transition of Philipp Lahm from right back to central defensive midfielder under Pep Guardiola, a former teammate of Frank de Boer, Blind’s development and maturity since his earlier forays at the position meant his current spell was more fruitful. Blind appeared at the CDM position in nearly half of his appearances for Ajax earning a Whoscored.com rating of 7.48. Blind made 77 tackles and 74 interceptions in league play outperforming Paulinho, Sandro, Etienne Capoue, Nabil Bentaleb, and Mousa Dembele. The 24 year old completed 1842 of his 2090 passes in league play for a completion percentage of 88%. Better than any Tottenham midfielder besides Mousa Dembele who converted 90% of his passes though he attempted roughly half of the passes Blind did. Blind’s work in the midfield earned him the Dutch Footballer of the Year and a spot in the 2014 Netherlands World Cup squad.

Blind had performed admirably in the Eredivisie, his engine, technical ability, tactical nous coupled with his willingness and ability to play multiple positions was worthy of praise but how would the son of a former Dutch great be able to cope with the greatest players in the world in the biggest footballing competition in the world?

The answer was resoundingly positive.

The Netherlands entered the 2014 World Cup in Brazil with few expectations; some even believed the nation would not be able to escape their group which was buoyed by the imperious Spanish and the hungry Chileans. Louis van Gaal, with his former players seated beside him in suits set out to change Dutch fortunes in the World Cup. The multiple league winner, van Gaal rallied his players to perform outstanding football with Ron Vlaar, Dirk Kuyt, Stefan de Vrij, and Arjen Robben playing their greatest international football. Another player who benefitted from van Gaal was Daley Blind, the utility man saw himself being featured as a left wing back, left sided center back, and as a central midfielder after the groin injury of Nigel de Jong.

Blind started every game in Brazil, but none was more impressive than his first, playing against the former World Champions Spain, Blind turned in the performance of a lifetime. Vicente del Bosque started Manchester City starlet David Silva on the right, his twinkled toed performances for City had earned him such. Similarly to Mesut Oezil and Christian Eriksen playing attacking midfielders, who despise defensive work out on the wings is a recipe for disaster. Blind in the left wing back position mercilessly exposed Silva’s defensive deficiencies, Busquets’ lack of mobility, and Azpilicueta’s inability to make up the difference. Blind led the team with 66 touches, completed 88% of his passes, winning 100% of his aerial duels, winning three tackles, and making two beautiful assists. Blind’s first assist saw him pick up the ball at the half-way line before he launched an inch perfect ball to the head of Robin van Persie. Blind’s second assist was just as lovely, reminiscent of his boss’ Frank de Boer’s pass to Dennis Bergkamp in the 1998 quarter-final against Argentina, Blind roved down the left flank before delivering the ball to Robben’s cushioning first touch. Blind was not done leaving his mark on the 2014 World Cup in the game against Australia, Blind completed 95% of his passes and assisted another goal. Blind started as a left sided center back against Chile where his passing completion lowered and he conceded seven fouls culminating in a yellow but led the team in tackles with nine as the Dutch won every group game. Blind struggled mightily in the sweltering heat against Mexico being pushed away by Mexican forward Giovani dos Santos. Blind recovered in the next two games before losing in penalties to eventual silver medalists Argentina. Blind returned to his best against a battered Brazil, where again Blind completed 88% of his passes and even notched his first international goal.

The World Cup is over and now it is thirty days for Mauricio Pochettino to make his stamp on Tottenham. The squad is strong but continues to lack in certain areas. Pochettino used variations of a 4-3-3 and a 4-2-3-1/4-1-4-1 hybrid during his time at Southampton. Possession, attacking, and pressure are trigger words synonymous with the Pochettino way of football. For the new boss to instill this system, Baldini, Levy, and Pochettino need to come together and solve the left back position. The transfer of Swansea left back Ben Davies has been off and on again but even if the transfer is completed, a necessity in my opinion, then the transfer of Daley Blind should also be of top priority. Blind can play in every position the Spurs need to reinforce. Blind could be pushed forward to play at left midfield against teams with rampaging right-wingers a la Chelsea and Eden Hazard. He could play left back if Davies is injured, suspended, for rest, or if out of form. He could also challenge any of the current Tottenham midfielders and serve as a better emergency centre back than Sandro or Zeki Fryers.

However, another young international has been linked to Tottenham during the 2014 transfer season. Another 24 year old in the shape of Morgan Schneiderlin, who played for the French national team that lost to future champions in the quarterfinals. Schneiderlin is an accomplished Premier League defensive midfielder. When comparing Schneiderlin and Blind the two are nearly inseparably in terms of quality on the pitch. Schneiderlin is a much better tackler, earning over thirty more tackles than Blind in a similar amount of games, 31 and 29 respectively. However, Blind has more interceptions per game and with fewer fouls 30 to Schneiderlin’s 51. Blind also made more clearances (57) than Schneiderlin. Blind averaged 72 passes per game for a completion percentage of 88% meanwhile Schneiderlin averaged 58 passes per game with a completion of 89%. Blind also played more accurate crosses, long balls, and through balls. The difference between these two players is negligible. They are both 24 years old, having played in international tournaments, and have similar stats. Schneiderlin would seem to be more likely due to his connection to his former manager Mauricio Pochettino but if Arsenal’s bid for Sami Khedira fails then Arsene Wenger may turn to his fellow countryman leaving Tottenham with their persistent glaring holes. It may be a hard sell but Blind and Tottenham would be a match made in heaven.

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