Wednesday 6 July 2016 12:57, UK
Jose Mourinho's comments suggest Daley Blind's time in the centre of Manchester United's defence could have come to an end, writes Adam Bate.
"I am more a manager that likes specialists, not so much the multi-functional players," said Jose Mourinho. It's easy to imagine how Daley Blind might have interpreted that remark. But if the Dutchman was in any doubt, the next line painted a clear picture of his Manchester United future.
"I like one or two multi-functional players because when you are in trouble, you always need one or two guys who can fill the space. If you have three central defenders injured or suspended, you need some left-back or midfield player that can give you a hand."
Some left-back or midfield player. If there are three defenders injured. It's not encouraging. And yet, it's hardly a surprise either. Blind's name featured alongside the already jilted Juan Mata's on the list of players whose futures were seen as under threat by Mourinho's arrival.
But it's a shame if that's to be it for Blind at centre-back, because his efforts there during 2015/16 showed plenty of promise. Wayne Rooney described him as a "very good reader of the game" in the role, while Paul McGrath called him a "beautiful footballer".
Most significantly, his partnership with Chris Smalling was a mutually beneficial one. "We have brought out the best in each other's games," said Smalling. "He brings a lot to our defensive line in knowing that he can play the ball out and really cut through teams."
For all the flaws of Louis van Gaal's United, Blind's presence in defence succeeded in bringing quality distribution from the back without compromising its effectiveness. Perhaps surprisingly, no team conceded fewer goals than United in last season's Premier League.
And yet, a 5'11" centre-back is far from the Mourinho ideal. It's telling that his first addition was not only a player for that position, Eric Bailly from Villarreal, but one who is significantly taller than Blind. All three of his centre-backs at Chelsea were that size or bigger.
Blind competes well and got the better of forwards as diverse as Sergio Aguero and Romelu Lukaku during the latter stages of last season. But Mourinho expects centre-backs to dominate in the air and that's a role that the 26-year-old will never be cut out to fulfil.
During Chelsea's 2014/15 title-winning season under Mourinho, Gary Cahill made 134 headed clearances and John Terry made 131. But while Smalling made 105 such clearances last season, Blind came up with only 63. These are basic tenets of defending for Mourinho.
As a result, unless Mourinho sees Blind as a "specialist" elsewhere, filling in at the back could be as good as it gets for him now. "I will have to show what I can do," said Blind earlier this summer when contemplating life under the new manager.
However, it's Blind's assessment of Van Gaal's departure - claiming he had "not been treated fairly" and "deserved more respect" - that feels pertinent now. After being one of United's better performers last season, he might soon feel the same way about himself.