Netherlands defender Daley Blind would be quite entitled to pinch himself in disbelief when he walks out against Argentina in Friday’s World Cup quarter-final.
Not because it will be his 99th international, and a second meeting with Lionel Messi and Argentina after the 2014 semi-final 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.
His former Ajax team mate 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.”
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.”
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 adds.