Daley Blind sees brighter days ahead for Dutch team

Netherlands and Manchester United star is looking beyond European disappointments

As the curtain came down on the World Cup two years ago it would have been hard to imagine the Dutch would not be at Euro 2016 but would spend the run-up to the tournament providing glamour opposition on the send-off circuit. But after Dublin tonight, there will be trips to Gdansk and Vienna.

To those of us who did not witness it up close, it is still difficult to comprehend how a side that came third in Brazil managed to finish lower than the Czech Republic, Iceland and Turkey in their Euro 2016 qualification group. Incredibly, the first two beat the 1988 European champions both home and away, while only an injury-time equaliser from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar in Amsterdam prevented the Turks doing the same.

"I think we've met strong opposition in our qualification group," says midfielder Daley Blind. "But we have to look at ourselves: we simply weren't good enough and need to improve. We went through a tough time after the World Cup. It's quite difficult to find one particular reason for our disappointing campaign. Lack of form, lots of injured key players, red cards and own goals at crucial moments. That sums it up."

For the Dutch, with their great tradition, the campaign was a humiliation, with Blind one of only two players – Wesley Sneijder was the other – to have been there for every comedic twist and turn.

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Testing time

Inevitably, it has been a testing time for a player whose early career had scarcely prepared him for failure. After coming through the ranks at Ajax and starting his international career in an under-15 game against Ireland, the young Blind was almost let go by the club, but even though a price was agreed with Groningen, where he had spent time on loan, the deal somehow didn’t go through.

Having been returned to his preferred midfield role under Frank de Boer, he thrived, winning several league titles with Ajax before being named the 2014 Dutch player of the year.

United paid more than 10 times what Groningen had been about to hand over and, despite his two years at Old Trafford not quite working out the way that might have been expected, Blind says he has enjoyed the experience.

“The results were not what we expected,” he admits, but “for me personally, the first two years were quite good. I played the majority of the matches and I was able to adapt quickly and develop myself. The games with Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool, in particular, were fantastic to play. That is what you dream of when you are a kid.”

Now he is having to keep track of developments at the club from a distance.

“Of course you read the news, like all people do,” he says. “But at the same time you try to keep your focus on the national team. That is important now.”

He acknowledges that it will be difficult not to be involved with the Euros and, somewhat ominously, lists Belgium among the teams of which he expects big things, but the 26-year-old is anxious to look beyond that now to the qualifying stages of the next World Cup. France, Sweden, Bulgaria and Belarus await, and none will be too daunted by the dates marked down for encounters with the Dutch.

“For us, the preparations have already started,” he says. “That is the way we approach it. I am looking forward to the game tomorrow, [but] we need to be there in September. We are in a tough group, but we will qualify. That is what I truly believe.”

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Industry and Employment Correspondent at The Irish Times