Defibrillator doubts didn’t derail driven Dutchman Daley Blind’s career

Defibrillator doubts didn’t derail driven Dutchman Daley Blind’s career
Daley Blind of Netherlands celebrates after scoring the team's second goal during the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022 Round of 16 match between Netherlands and USA at Khalifa International Stadium on 3 December, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo: Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

The Dutch defender continues to perform at the highest level with the assistance of a defibrillator to manage a heart condition.

Netherlands defender Daley Blind would be quite entitled to pinch himself in disbelief when he walks out against Argentina in Friday’s World Cup quarterfinal.

Not because it will be his 99th international, and a second meeting with Lionel Messi and Argentina after the 2014 semifinal in Brazil, but more that he has been able to continue playing despite twice suffering cardiac incidents on the field.

Blind, 32, has an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) in his chest to detect an irregular heartbeat and deliver a life-saving shock in the event of sudden cardiac arrest.

It is the same device that allowed Christian Eriksen to resume his career after the horrific drama of his cardiac arrest playing for Denmark at last year’s European Championship.

Blind, who spent four years at Manchester United in between spells with Ajax Amsterdam, had a suspected heart attack in a Champions League game for Ajax against Valencia in 2019, feeling dizzy and quickly being taken off for treatment.

Doctors diagnosed a heart rhythm disorder and initially suggested his professional career was over.

“You saw everyone looking at me with fear,” Blind recalls in an emotive documentary called ‘Never Again Standing Still’ about dealing with the condition, which was released just before the World Cup kicked off.

Daley Blind

Daley Blind of Netherlands shoots past Sergino Dest of United States during the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022 round of 16 match between Netherlands and United States at Khalifa International stadium on 3 December, 2022 in Al-Rayyan, Qatar. (Photo: ANP via Getty Images)

His former Ajax teammate Eriksen also appears in the film and Blind tells of how the reaction of his father Danny, also a Dutch international and now Louis van Gaal’s assistant at the World Cup, gave him the drive to continue.

“Something that has always stayed with me was my father’s reaction. He remained so stoic. He did not give up, he kept asking the doctor if there were any other options. His sober vision gave me hope.”

Screaming incident

Eight months after being fitted with the defibrillator, Blind suffered another incident when he suddenly collapsed on the pitch, screaming as the ICD went off.

However, he was able to get up and walk off the pitch and was given the all-clear by doctors not long after.

“It is something you carry with you every day,” Blind says.

“You get up with it, you go to work, you take your medicine. You think about it during a sprint, you actually always carry it with you. It was only after a year that I went into a game without thinking about it. Then I called my dad to tell him.”

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Blind now sits on the cusp of a career highlight as the Netherlands get ready to take on Argentina.

He scored in last Saturday’s last-16 clash against the United States and, along with fellow wing-back Denzel Dumfries, was the star of the show in a convincing 3-1 win.

“I feel very fit and can do everything a normal person can do. Once in a while I go for checks but as long as I still have that drive, I will try to get the most out of it,” he added.

Daley Blind of Netherlands

Daley Blind of Netherlands competes for the ball with Tyler Adams of USA during the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022 Round of 16 match between Netherlands and USA at Khalifa International Stadium on 3 December, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo: MB Media/Getty Images)

Van Dijk dodges Messi questions

Meanwhile, Dutch skipper Virgil van Dijk deflected several questions about his looming confrontation with Lionel Messi but admitted the Netherlands would be cautious in their approach against Argentina.

The Dutch skipper stuck to the same line in fielding a flurry of enquiries about how he and his teammates will deal with the threat of Messi at the Lusail Stadium.

“It’s not about me, or the Netherlands, against Messi, it’s about the Netherlands against Argentina,” he repeated several times at a news conference on Wednesday.

In response to a question about how worried they might be about the threat of the seven-times Ballon d’Or winner, Van Dijk said: “Worried no, but cautious of what Argentina can bring to the game.

“They are a fantastic team with fantastic players, and we are going to have to do well in all departments of the match.”

He agreed that his side could have played better in Qatar, despite not losing a game and winning their group, but diplomatically dodged a question about whether criticism of their performances back home was typically Dutch.

“We also feel that our play in the last game could have been better,” he said. “We are all perfectionists and could like to have performed better. But what is nice is that we are still in the competition and playing in the quarterfinals.”

The Dutch are eager to break new ground and win a World Cup after losing in three finals.

Daley Blind of Netherlands

(From left to right) Daley Blind of Netherlands with teammates Cody Gakpo and Memphis Depay celebrate victory against United States following the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022 round of 16 match between Netherlands and United States at Khalifa International stadium on 3 December, 2022 in AL-Rayyan, Qatar. (Photo: ANP via Getty Images)

“There is a hunger, dreams and a feeling that we really want to get it (the World Cup),” Van Dijk said.

“When you are in the quarterfinals you are only three games from glory. This is our opportunity. But obviously, we have to get past an Argentina side with one of the best players of all time.”

The Dutch also face the possibility of the majority of the 80,000-odd crowd cheering on Argentina as a surprisingly small number of orange-clad Dutch supporters have travelled.

Usually, the Dutch get significant support on the road but without them, Van Dijk believes an early goal might be important to quieten the opposing fans.

“Then it comes a whole different game,” he said. “But I think it will be nice to play in such an ambiance.” Reuters/DM


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