Last year was the season where Louis van Gaal first started to change Manchester United. Swaggering into the job with a typical mix of composure, arrogance and belief, heads rolled and marquee names arrived. It was also a summer where Sir Alex Ferguson’s disciples first fell victims to a severe cull.
Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria were the two standout names to touch down at Old Trafford. But now, 12 months on, they now ply their trade at Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain. Much has been made of Van Gaal’s inability to coax the best from his Galacticos but, Sergio Romero aside, his movements in the transfer window have undoubtedly strengthened the side.
One player whose worth has complemented his relatively cheap price tag is Daley Blind. Though Ander Herrera has had his moments, it is the Dutchman whose impeccable performances are thrusting United closer to the maiden, post-Ferguson title they crave. His opener in the 3-1 victory over Liverpool at the weekend has only enhanced his reputation from those around Old Trafford.
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Van Gaal is a manager known to favour those whose work ethic and eagerness to prioritise the interests of the team comes first, rather than players who expect the name emblazoned on the back of their shirt to give them license to a starting berth.
And that is why the acquisition of Blind a year ago was no surprise. One of the integral members of the Netherlands machine that made the semi-finals of the World Cup in Brazil, his performances for his country ultimately earned him a move away from his beloved Ajax.
Blessed with the ability to impress in many positions, the Dutchman was initially used in central midfield as a replacement for the injured Michael Carrick. However, as the season wore on, stellar displays at left-back saw him instead deputise for the sidelined Luke Shaw as United laboured back into the Champions League.
The 25-year-old was part of the impressive trident of Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini that saw the club blow the likes of Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester City away, but his performances at centre-back this season are showing his class in a way his contributions in midfield never truly showed.
Van Gaal was widely revered throughout the summer for his failure to sign one of Sergio Ramos or Nicolas Otamendi, but the former Bayern Munich manager has instead placed his entire trust in Blind whose performances are earning plaudits from those throughout the game.
Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher last month risked irking supporters of his old employers by insisting the defensive partnership of the Dutch international and Chris Smalling is more solid than many people think and the driving force behind their title challenge.
Before last month’s 2-1 defeat to Swansea City, where two errors from Romero saw the Argentinean dropped for the returning David De Gea at the weekend, the defensive duo had conceded just one goal in five games. Christian Benteke’s stunning goal aside, Blind and Smalling contained the Belgian for the most part on Saturday night.
Just over a year on from his arrival, Blind is the best buy of Van Gaal’s reign. Unless the likes of Memphis Depay and Anthony Martial can emulate his success, he could still hold that honour in the years to come.