It's probably fair to say that Daley Blind was kind of an afterthought when he was unveiled alongside Radamel Falcao on September 11, 2014. El Tigre had been one of the best strikers in Europe, and his arrival on a loan/option-to-buy deal generated real excitement among the United faithful. Blind, on the other hand, was a good player but hardly a marquee star. A £13.8 million signing from AFC Ajax, he was, seemingly, only bought because of his rapport and familiarity with then-Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal.
Four years later, as Blind prepares to return to Ajax in a deal worth, potentially, £18.1 million, it's fair to say that he contributed far more to United's cause than either Falcao or Angel Di Maria, the other major acquisition in the summer of 2014. With three trophies to his name, as well as many instances of professionalism, heads-up play and selfless determination, he will always be remembered fondly by the United faithful.
Which is kind of surprising, considering he, like his much-maligned teammate, Marouane Fellaini, epitomizes an era that most United fans would love to forget. Blind was, perhaps, the perfect van Gaal player and represented everything the former gaffer wanted out of his United team. Blind was versatile and could play multiple positions. A great passer with outstanding vision, Blind was one of the few United players that seemed comfortable with van Gaal's possession-heavy scheme. When van Gaal was switching formations and schemes like a groom trying on tuxedos, Blind was one of his constants, filling in at center back, left back and central midfield and doing whatever his boss demanded. He even chipped in with some important goals, including this belter against Liverpool and this last-gasp equalizer against West Ham on a night when his teammates seemed utterly confused by van Gaal's rarely-used diamond formation.
Blind's lack of strength, speed and height didn't hinder him too much in van Gaal's static scheme, which placed more of a premium on his positioning and passing. Under Mourinho, a self-professed fan of "specialists," a versatile player like Blind with clear physical deficiencies was always going to struggle. Blind went from "jack-of-all-trades" to "master-of-none" overnight, and, outside of a brief period where he was first-choice at center back, spent most of the Mourinho Era on the bench. Making the decision to go back to Ajax (for more than United paid for him) was a no-brainer for all parties involved. Indeed, Ajax is treating this move like a true transfer coup, even rolling out the red carpet for their prodigal son.
Happy trails, Daley Blind. A true servant for United that, like his patron, helped steady the ship during uncertain times and gave his all for the club.
Based on how United fans reacted to the news that Marouane Fellaini had signed a two-year contract extension and that Lee Grant had signed on as a backup goalkeeper, you'd think David Moyes was on his way back to the dugout.
I guess anything less than Sergej Milinkovic-Savic in midfield and Gianluigi Buffon agreeing to take a massive pay cut for the privilege of sitting behind David de Gea is a disaster. It really is silly season.
While the fans may not have thought twice about showing the much-maligned Fellaini the door, it was clear that Jose Mourinho didn't agree. The United manager seemingly moved heaven-and-earth to get one of his favorite players to sign on the dotted line; talking him up at every opportunity and all but begging him not to leave. At times, it seemed like he was the only who wanted the Belgian destroyer to stay.
I've never understood the hate Fellaini gets from United fans. Sure, he's not a glamorous name and will never sell a bunch of shirts. Plus, he'll never live down his status as Moyes's guy - the Chosen One's Chosen One, so to speak.
But he's a big guy who causes matchup problems for the opposing defense - and teams can always use a guy like that. He's always at or near the top of the team when it comes to aerial duels won, and as we saw last season against Arsenal, and more recently during Belgium's wild come-from-behind win against Japan in the World Cup Round of 16 elimination match, he's a great option when you're chasing the game and desperately need a goal. Simply put, he's a good player who can do a job. You don't want Fellaini starting most matches, but there are certainly worse options to have coming off the bench.
As for Lee Grant, it really is much ado about nothing. The Stoke backup is coming in as a third-string goalkeeper - and if he plays like he did the last time he faced United (assuming he ever gets onto the lineup sheet), then he's a steal. Plus, his signing will allow the club to loan out Joel Pereira and Dean Henderson so they can get match time and, hopefully, improve. And surely, he can't be as bad as some of the stiffs Sir Alex Ferguson signed to mind the nets (like the "Blind Venetian" Massimo Taibi).
Now, if Fellaini ends up starting most matches next year and Grant plays more than either De Gea or Sergio Romero, then United will have some big problems. But it won't be because it chose to sign those guys.
Chelsea has N’Golo Kanté. Man City has Fernandinho. Liverpool has Naby Keita signed, sealed and delivered.
In recent years, energetic and creative defensive midfielders have been in demand in the Premiership. Now United has joined the fray. On Wednesday, the club announced it had completed the transfer of Brazilian international Fred for a reported £52 million from Shakhtar Donetsk. The deal had been in the works for weeks, and Fred passed a medical and took his promotional photos earlier this month during a break from his World Cup preparations with the Brazilian national team. He even found time to film a video that parodied Alexis Sanchez’s unveiling.
Welcome to Manchester, Fred. Hopefully, you'll be the best Brazilian ever to play for United. Then again, that's a pretty low bar to clear.
Again, not so much a review as an observation. I enjoyed this show much more than the last Depeche Mode show I attended. The band sounded better and tighter than they did the last time I saw them (although that may have been because of the change of venue - Barclays Center had well-documented acoustics problems back then). Dave Gahan and Martin Gore sounded great, Peter Gordeno did a good job playing the "Alan Wilder" role on keyboards and background vocals and Christian Eigner was solid on drums. Fletch showed off some new dance moves, adding an awkward double Durst to his extensive repertoire (which includes the “Funky Cello” and the “Snack Break”). The band only did four songs off the new album, "Spirit" - the same number of songs they did from 1997’s “Ultra.” That's too bad, because I actually like some of the songs off the new album, especially show-opener "Going Backwards."
We're going backwards
Turning back our history
Piling on the misery
We're going backwards
Armed with new technology
To a caveman mentality
In fact, "Spirit" is quite political - especially when compared to the band's last few albums. Maybe Trump, Brexit and everything else going on in the world inspired them. Or maybe it was being co-opted by the alt-right. Either way, it made for a great show!