Over the last 2 years or so, Daley Blind’s influence on the pitch for Ajax has seen a meteoric rise, and only continues to grow.

  • By Priya Ramesh
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blind 1Son of club legend and Champions League-lifting captain in 1995, Danny Blind, Daley’s Ajax future was once unpropitious, peppered with doubts and far more criticism than he deserved, including nepotism for his involvement on pitch and unfortunately, his performances were not improving by leaps and bounds. Having joined the club when he was 8 – a year or so before his father’s retirement -, Daley made his Ajax debut ten years later, at 18, but has only really established himself in the last two seasons, notably since Frank de Boer took over the reigns of the Amsterdam club.

Especially over the last year and a half or so, Blind has emerged as one of the most consistent players for Ajax, performing week in and week out, and this has seen him collect the Ajax Player of the Year for last season, as well as cementing a place in the Oranje national team, ahead of the likes of Jetro Willems and Patrick van Aanholt. It is safe to say, he has answered back to those who ‘blind-sided’ him in his rough patch (no pun intended).

They say you don’t change a winning team, and perhaps, in football, they could say you shouldn’t change a brilliant performer’s position. Blind had started out as a central midfielder – functioning in the ‘no. 6’ role across youth levels, before being transitioned into a leftback. Frank de Boer has positioned Blind in midfield on a few occassions, but this season, has started playing him there much more regularly, in a move similar to Vurnon Anita’s positonal change some time back. After having played at leftback for many years, would it be possible for Blind to adapt himself back to his original position? The answer was undeniably yes, and this is where we see the beauty of the education Blind received at de Toekomst. The key to Ajax’s success at the biggest stage has always been based on ‘habit’ football, with key players having gotten used to the unique style of football at Ajax from a very young age, much much before they could fully even comprehend tactics and formation – it is some sort of an Ajax DNA, imbued into graduates of the system. All this is something that no one understands better than Frank de Boer, having been a graduate of the Ajax Academy himself and gone on to play at leftback before evolving into a centreback/sweeper role.  So, in the end, for Blind, it was a walk in the park, being asked to go back to his old position. Parallels can perhaps be drawn to Pep Guardiola’s decision to deploy his best fullback – Philipp Lahm – in defensive midfield. Had it not been for an injury to Nicolai Boilesen, reverting Blind back to midfield could have occurred last season, when Anita departed for Tyneside. However, to make up for the loss, Poulsen was bought and Blind stayed in defence.

When in attack, Ajax tend to form a 2-3-2-3 on pitch, playing a characteristic high line, with the fullbacks essentially functioning as wingbacks, and a triangle is formed between the two centrebacks and the controlling midfielder. In the case of Blind, he has a very good range of passes under his belt and can transition the attack well, moving the ball from the defence to the attack, though the long balls are more often played from the boots of centrebacks Moisander or Veltman, who have both mastered the art of sending inch-perfect balls up to the wingers in what has become a trademark Ajax move. Blind’s biggest contribution in attack, comes in offering defensive stability to his attack-minded teammates. His stint in defence has fine-tuned his decision making as well as his spatial and positonal awareness, which means that players such as Davy Klaassen and Thulani Serero, who play right in front of him, can move forward with a bit more ease.

Moving on to the defensive contribution, and this is where the importance of this no. 6 role cannot be undermined. Being the controlling midfielder requires quite some pace, having to cover the pitch going sideways more often than going forward. As exemplified by Sergio Busquets of Barcelona, when off the ball, this player has to lead the team in pressing forward and forcing the opponents to pass sideways or back, whereupon, it will ideally delay any worthwhile attack or cause a loose pass, which could be picked up by one of our own attackers. This is where Blind offers the biggest upgrade over Poulsen, because he is many times more mobile than the Dane as well as being mighty aggressive in his pressing. One only needs to watch one match to observe this – when Ajax hosted Barcelona at the Amsterdam ArenA. The first half saw Ajax being the more dominant side and it was mainly down to their proactive pressing and closing down of the Barcelona players. Once Boilesen went off injured, the pace of the Ajax pressing decreased, coinciding with Blind moving back to leftback while Poulsen took up the reins in midfield. Many put forth the argument that if de Boer had put Ligeon as leftback and gone for the kill by playing Blind in midfield vs AC Milan, the Amsterdam side could have had a better chance at progressing to the knock-out rounds.

This has resulted in a win-win for Ajax at the moment, with Boilesen living up to his potential and putting in some wonderful performances at leftback, while Blind continues to impress in midfield. After Boilesen went off injured vs Barcelona and only returned in time for the club’s winter camp in Turkey, Blind had to go back to playing leftback again in the meanwhile. However, de Boer has reiterated earlier this month and Blind will be considered exclusively as a midfielder for the remainder of the season and now on, while naming Jairo Riedewald as 2nd choice leftback, after Boilesen.

So, what does this mean for Blind in the national team? Nigel de Jong has undergone metamorphosis since his kung-fu kick at Xabi Alonso and has become a much better defensive midfielder, as well as first choice for Louis van Gaal. Blind himself has been first choice for the former Ajax and Barcelona boss, albeit at leftback. It is likely that in the forthcoming World Cup, Blind could find himself being played at leftback again but it is not likely to be for a long time as de Jong enters his 30’s and Blind only improving with each game. Things might change under van Gaal’s reported successor – Guus Hiddink – but, we could well see Blind playing in the no. 6 role for the Oranje at the Euros in 2016. The leftback position has quite a few contenders for it, but Willems should win it back when Blind is moved permanently to midfield.

At a mere 23 years of age, Blind now embraces the role of a ‘senior’ player at Ajax, recently having joined the prestigious ‘Club van 100’ at Ajax for making a 100 appearances as well as being handed the armband when neither Siem de Jong nor Niklas Moisander have been on pitch. With his rising influence and impressive ability in his ‘new’ position at Ajax, coupled with his exuberance and enthusiasm on pitch, the shaggy-haired Daley will continue to be an extremely vital cog as a 4th consecutive Eredivisie title looms on the horizon for Frank de Boer & co.

Priya Ramesh (5 Posts)

Freelance Dutch football writer, suffering student, unique mixture of calcium, water, collagen and iron.