At school the only sort-of-fight I ever got into was when a waxy-faced ruffian named Kevin Fitzwater hit me in the face with a chicken kiev. Needless to say I dished out the kind of swift and brutal comeuppance more commonly associated with Honduran prison gangs. I pushed him off his rollerblades and ran away.
But, despite the paucity of my scrapping experience I am ‘more than’ willing to engage in first-degree fisticuffs with anyone who still thinks Daley Blind is rubbish.
But before it comes to that – before you feel the fury of a Chinese burn or the agony of a well-timed thumb-jab to the nipple – let me try and convince you.
Daley Blind arrived at Manchester United as a sort of consolation signing. Despite being the reigning footballer of the year in Holland he was considered to be, at best, a Van Gaal poodle. At worst he was seen as an uninspiring utility man, capable of nothing greater than the same plodding, uninspiring display in several positions.
If the arrival that summer of Angel Di Maria was a Manchester United signing, Blind’s transfer was a Spurs one. Maybe even a Sunderland.
And, in fairness, Blind himself did little to change opinions in his first campaign. Switched arbitrarily between wing-back, defensive midfield and the back four he looked mostly like an ‘ok’ second choice for each of these positions.
So, with fans’ fragile hope increasingly pricked by uncertainty, the sight of Daley Blind at the heart of the defence filled them with Djemba-Djemba levels of apprehension.
And it wasn’t just the fans. Television pundits grappled for new ways to say he was too small, too slow and too Daley Blind to be a commanding centre back for Manchester United.
He’ll be in trouble against a big centre forward’ growls Phil Murphy-Mills. ‘He’s not got the pace to be a top, top, top, top defender’ splutters Ruud Nevvergher. ‘He smells like big cheese and windmills’ interjects a xenophobe, unhelpfully.
And then Blind played well. Not magnificently well. Not well enough to make Jaap Stam (below) and Nemanja Vidic look like they were made of melted Fab lollies and jumper fluff, but still pretty bloody well.
Ok, then he was a bit rubbish against Swansea, bullied by Bafétimbi Gomis and dizzied by André Ayew. Defeated, as it had been repeatedly suggested he would, by pace and power.
And yet, despite the almost universal praise for his performance – and despite the fact that he has been at the heart of a defence that has conceded just three times in the Premier League – there are Manchester United fans who would still prefer him to be sat on the bench.
Marcos Rojo – he of the wild tackles and wandering concentration – should still be, they say, first choice. But then, against Liverpool last weekend, he gave perhaps the stand-out individual performance of Manchester United’s fairly dozy season.
He was quietly commanding in defence, flawless in possession and, most importantly, decisive at both ends.
His deliciously crisp finish to some finely worked training ground shenanigans was matched by a timely clearance off the line. He even managed to occasionally out-muscle Christian Benteke, suggesting he is not merely aware of his weaknesses, but is addressing them.
There’s a lot of evidence to ignore before you arrive at picking a Manchester United team without Daley Blind in it.
The players either side of him – Luke Shaw (before Tuesday night’s horror injury) and Chris Smalling – both look at ease like never before in their United career. Similarly, Matteo Darmian has settled instantly into the league’s second tightest defence. I’m not sure these players are all looking so good, at the same time and with all the ongoing goalkeeper brouhaha in spite of Daley Blind’s presence.
For a manager that likes to cling on to the ball as if it were made of embarrassing photos of his monstrous crimson genitalia, Blind is at least a sensible choice at centre back.
And even if you don’t fancy him as your regular central defender, it seems insane that such a versatile, flexible and intelligent player should be regarded no more highly than a top-price Ronnie Wallwork.
So, if you’re still not in the grips of Blind Love you may be about to face the same rough treatment as the boy who hurled hot, garlicky meat at my vulnerable young face. I just really hope you’re wearing roller blades.
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