In footballing terms, the description of ‘utility man’ has been stigmatised by its inference- Jack of all trades, master of none. Ultimately, it plagued the careers, in recent times, of Phil Neville and John O’Shea at Manchester United. Versatility, in that sense, is seen as a hindrance rather than an advantage. Their failure to nail down and make a position their own saw them head to pastures new in that quest no longer guaranteed at Old Trafford. Could one of the current crop suffer a similar fate, with the change in regime?
The Mourinho era has started in potentially typically ruthless fashion with rumours aplenty who may become the first victims of the Mourinho axe wielding. The early casualties, if early reports are to be believed, could be, somewhat predictably Juan Mata (who has already been subject of a Mourinho jettison) and, perhaps less predictably, Daley Blind.
The Dutchman became one of Louis Van Gaal’s go-to players, Blind a Van Gaal disciple himself. His versatility was emphasised by Van Gaal’s utilisation of his fellow countryman in a largely unfamiliar role of centre-back. Many predicted this would be a baptism of fire and ultimately a bridge too far for Blind- many citing his obvious physical deficiencies as an area to exploit.
In fact, this is the rumoured black mark against his name as far as his new manager sees things. By all accounts, Mourinho favours strong and quick defenders- with defenders such as Raphael Varane and Kurt Zouma given their head by the Portuguese in previous managerial stints.
Unpopular opinion or not, Blind was a model of consistency in an alien position as far as my match-going eyes saw from my Stretford End seat. Seldom did Blind ever get bullied in the physical confrontation- Premier League powerhouses did not get change out of the Dutchman in terms of the muscle stakes.
Football is not all about brawn and Blind’s man of the match display against Romelu Lukaku in the Spring was a masterclass in how to cope with a physical specimen as bullish as they come on his day. Whatever Blind lacks physically, he more than makes up for mentally. He is an incredibly intelligent footballer, his passing out of the back has proved to be an efficient starting block for United and his positional sense has been a large factor in not getting physically dominated. Pace in the brain is always an asset as strong as pace in the legs and I’m just not sure that, in a team of transition and another massive turnover of players expected, Mourinho is in a position to bin one of the smartest players he will have at his disposal.
Players like Marcos Rojo, who simply lacks the quality to cement his place at United, and Phil ‘Sick Note’ Jones are surely in a more vulnerable position than the consistent Dutchman. The names mentioned as potential Mourinho targets at centre-back- error prone and overpriced John Stones and probably unattainable Raphael Varane are not just going to waltz through the door at a cool price.
Long-term, Daley Blind will not be a Manchester United centre-back. That does not mean he does not fit the bill in any other position, adept at left-back and the midfield anchor, Blind’s multiple strings to his bow should count in his favour.
Mourinho could do a lot worse than retain Daley Blind at Manchester United. Reports are beginning to suggest Barcelona manager Luis Enrique is keeping tabs on the Netherlands international.