Forgive us for seeing this as a direct threat to Daley Blind’s status as a starter at Old Trafford next season. Jose Mourinho is a very deliberate man and he took these comments even further with a thinly veiled reference to Blind once more. It took the form of comments about the place multi-functional players could have in his team in crisis, for example a player who can fill in at centre back or in midfield. So basically Blind. It’s as if he was gently telling us the Dutchman can’t be a starter in his team at centre back.
Don’t get it wrong. Blind had a fine season at the left side of a central defensive partnership with Chris Smalling who himself had a breakthrough season. This was at his secondary position and one which he can still get better in to nullify his physical shortcomings. He proved to be a seamless compliment to the tall Smalling who is commanding in the air. This is an understandable weakness for the 5’11 tall Blind. However, the Louis van Gaal favourite for his ‘square peg in round hole’ ability to fit in positions not really his own provided the interceptive skills and cerebral intelligence to the partnership. True, his lack of pace was exposed a few times last season. He had bad days just as any defender will invariably have. Manchester United though conceded 35 times in 38 league games which tied for the best record with the Tottenham Hotspur. Not bad for a team with only one specialist in central defense.
Another plus is his fitness record which led to him making a team high 56 appearances last season, two more than next best Juan Mata. This might come in handy for a Jose who has shown an aversion to rotation once he has a settled and proven lineup.
So Jose must at least give him a chance to prove himself in what he is trying hard to convince the rest of us is now his primary, specialist position. It must be his spot to lose despite the signing of the specialist but raw and inexperienced Eric Bailly and the fit again Phil Jones. None of the 2015/16 crop have done anything to warrant a place ahead of him. In fact, he and Smalling were arguably the two best outfield players for United last season, a revealing consequence of the van Gaal era. The first pre-season game against Wigan provided hope to his fans who should interpret his inclusion and subsequent good outing as a chance from the manager to prove his credentials as a specialist indeed.
Purists should find Blind a joy to watch in defense. For all his physical limitations such as size and speed, he counteracts well with his superb vision, reading of the game, passing range and interceptive ability. He was the provider of many a crucial interception whenever the defense found itself pressured. He didn’t need to be 6’4 for that and he didn’t need to be blisteringly quick. The manager does have a preference for the John Terry or Smalling type defender. Blind doesn’t fit this archetype but it is perhaps an indication of Jose’s new found maturity to give the man a chance to prove his worth. Bailly will need time to adjust and Phil Jones’ fitness is about as reliable as a shower of rain in July peeking through searing heat. Here for a short time. We hope this is not so for his sake but Jose must approach all facets of management with an open mind.
No Blind spots.
Let it first be shown intelligence is an inferior option to ‘specialists’. Has Daley not shown he can be a ‘specialist’?