Netherlands’ Blind comes of age in Brazil

Daley Blind in action for the Netherlands. (Eduardo Verdugo/AP)

Name: Daley Blind
Born: March 9, 1990, in Amsterdam, Netherlands
Position: Defender/defensive midfielder
Pro club: AFC Ajax

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Why is he in the news?

The most beautiful, most ridiculous goal of the 2014 World Cup so far has to be Robin van Persie’s flying header in the Netherlands’ first game of the tournament. They were facing defending champions Spain, looking outmatched as they trailed 1–0. But then came 24-year-old World Cup rookie Daley Blind, whose cross-field pass connected perfectly with van Persie’s leaping frame to tie the game in the 44th minute. Blind earned a second assist in the 53rd minute of the match with another exquisite long pass to Arjen Robben, putting the Netherlands up 2–1. Those two goals forced a surge in the team’s energy, and the game would end in a shocking 5–1 victory for the Oranje.

Van Persie received the bulk of attention for his acrobatic goal—what he described as “brilliant” and “the best goal of my career.” But without Blind, that moment—which went viral, spawning a movement called “Persieing,” a kind of cousin to planking—never would have happened. Blind’s incredible timing and accuracy helped his team to take charge of the match. He earned a third assist in the team’s victory over Australia, and his play throughout the tournament has been quietly and consistently excellent.

And since he’s still so young, Blind should only get better. As the Flying Dutchmen face Argentina and the likes of Lionel Messi, they’ll need Blind’s visionary passing and defensive prowess if they’re going to win.

He’s special because

Blind is a versatile athlete who has excelled as both a defender and defensive midfielder. He has great passing range and astonishing accuracy—he currently has an 87.3 percent pass-success rating in this World Cup.

Club career

Blind joined the Ajax youth system as an eight-year-old, signing his first pro contract at 17 and making his debut for the Ajax first team on December 7, 2008. He struggled with inconsistency until coach Frank de Boer took over. In the 2013–14 season, de Boer moved Blind from left-back to holding midfielder. Blind—whose passing accuracy for the season was at 88 percent—was subsequently named Dutch Footballer of the Year. He has won four consecutive Eredivisie titles with the club, starting with the 2010–11 season.

Although Blind signed a three-year contract extension in 2013 that will keep him with Ajax through the summer of 2016, his breakout World Cup performance has generated transfer buzz, with rumours that he could be headed to one of Europe’s big clubs—perhaps Manchester United, home to both van Persie and Dutch national coach Louis van Gaal.

International career

Blind made his debut for the Netherlands under-17 squad in the team’s second match of the 2007 European Championships. He scored two goals but suffered an ankle injury that would keep him from the remainder of the tournament. Blind’s debut for the senior national team came in February 2013; he currently has 17 caps.

His most famous moment

Blind’s breakout performance came in his first World Cup appearance. Although van Persie and Robben received most of the attention after the match against Spain, Blind was rightly credited by soccer pundits for helping his team to mount an extraordinary comeback.

Here’s an interesting fact

Blind is the son of Danny Blind, a Dutch defender who rose to prominence in 13 seasons with Ajax between 1986 and 1999. The elder Blind, currently an assistant coach with the national squad, is one of only five players who have won all international tournaments recognized by FIFA and the UEFA—and is the only Dutchman on that list of names. When Daley Blind joined Ajax, fans of de Godenzonen did not take to him; he was seen as a mediocre player who’d been given an unfair advantage because of his father’s connection to the club. The younger Blind was booed relentlessly but eventually won fans over with his consistent performance and, in particular, his improved play in 2013.

He said it

“I looked up and saw Robin [van Persie] go and I didn’t think. I tried to deliver it as well as possible and it worked out.” —Blind, on his pass to van Persie, whose diving goal went viral.

What they’re saying about him

“Obviously you’re going to mention [Arjen] Robben and Robin van Persie. But for me, the man of the match was—by a distance—Blind. The way he played, he actually did what his boss was asking him, to a T.” —Thierry Henry, speaking about Blind’s performance in the match against Spain.

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