Former Manchester United defender Gary Neville recently commented on the impact of summer signing Daley Blind, criticising the player for taking what he called “the easy option”.
In comments made on Sky Sports and later published by the Daily Mail, Neville said of the Dutch midfielder, “He has got to start looking up more and playing forward. He plays far too many square passes and takes the easy option.”
But in making those comments Neville was missing a fundamental point regarding United this season, because Blind’s current role is to protect the defence, not set up chances for the attacking talent on show.
United have more than enough players to do that with the likes of Ander Herrera, Angel Di Maria, Adnan Januzaj, Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney all more than capable of setting up as well as scoring goals. Even Marouane Fellaini has become a far more threatening attacking outlet since Louis van Gaal took charge.
But Blind’s primary purpose is not to play the kind of ball that set up Robin van Persie for that sublime World Cup header. The former Ajax star is there to shield, to do the easy stuff, which is exactly what Neville criticised him for.
Shifting the ball to Di Maria or Rooney is not bad; it is necessary when Blind has been tasked with protecting a back-line that shows no sign of getting any stronger following another bout of injuries and suspensions.
When United have signed a quality, experienced centre-back and a world-class defensive midfielder then Blind can come in for criticism if he only takes the easy options. But for now in taking those options he is being smart, not lazy.