When United bought Angel Di Maria, from Real Madrid, for A?58 Million, the signing was heralded as a major step forward for the club. Twelve months since, the mercurial Argentine has found himself sidelined by Ashley Young, plied in unfamiliar positions, and unsettled by a handful of unsavoury off-pitch incidents. With PSG’s big money, knocking at the door of Old Trafford, should United cash in while they can? or mould Di Maria into the indispensable talent he has shown himself to be.
Juan Sebastian Veron.
That name has landed itself into Manchester United folklore for all the wrong reasons. Signed by Lazio after a ground-breakingseason, for a then record fee of a 35 Million, Veron was heralded as the future of United’s midfield and the heir to Roy Keane’s throne.
What transpired in the 24 months since his arrival, were a slate of injuries, loss in form and an inability to impose himself on a vastly physical league.
Prodigious Argentine, bought for big money, undone by physicality, it all sounds too familiar doesn’t it?
What faces Di Maria, is a very similar tale. Whilst United sold Veron to Mourinho’s Chelsea, they didn’t regret their decision as the club continued on to success, whilst Veron fell into obscurity. The same fate is not likely to meet Di Maria, but it does beg the question for United- Keep him or Cash in?
Di Maria’s arrival to the flushing greens of Old Trafford was heralded by many in the media as a masterstroke, the key addition to the ‘Gaal-acticos’. Fresh off a treble winning campaign, where he played a pivotal part, Di Maria seemed to be just what United needed. A play-maker, a winger and an athlete all rolled into a tall spindly package.
For the first three months, Di Maria hit the ground running. Deployed in a preferred wide-central role, Di Maria created and scored at will. His slalom runs from deep, devilish delivery from wide positions and moments of genius like his goal at Leicester City marked him out a class apart. His intensity was a breath of fresh air, and his playmaking near magical. United were giddy with excitement, as they felt that Di Maria was worth every penny they had paid for.
However, the honey moon period soon ended.
People began to notice some glaring similarities between Di Maria, and the man he had replaced as Real’s chief play-maker- Mesut Ozil. Ozil was a record transfer for Arsenal, started off brilliantly, and then seemingly lost it after a spell of bad form.
Di Maria’s trajectory seemed eerily similar. Deployed as a secondary striker in the ‘Robben Role‘ while Rooney was shifted to midfield, had fans the world over, seething with anger. With the goal to his back, Di Maria wasn’t offered the space or creativity to thrive, rendering him something he wasn’t used to being-ineffectual.
His dip in form was accompanied by an attempted burglary at his residence, shaking him to the very core. While no one can statistically corroborate the effect an incident like that has on his game, it nonetheless affected him mentally.
It all came unravelled in a distasteful FA Cup tie against Arsenal, where Di Maria received his second yellow for foolishly tugging at the referee’s shoulder, forcing him out of the tie, and United out of the contest.
This incident relegated Di Maria to the bench, and heralded the second coming of Ashley Young, who at nearly 30, was consistently upstaging Di Maria. Not a good situation if you’re United’s record signing.
As the season wore on, Van Gaal adapted his tactics and the results improved. Many of United’s best performances didn’t feature Di Maria, whose propensity to lose the ball was a liability. His brilliance at Real did not translate in to brilliance for the club, or for it’s manager. A?58m is an obscene amount of money for a player who isn’t a consistently match-winning talisman for the side. His 11 assists, the highest in the club and the second highest in the league, were mostly representative of flash-in-the-pan brilliance accompanied by grossly underwhelming performances.
To play Red Devil’s advocate, Di Maria can still offer much to this newly bolstered United Line-up
The true value of a player like Di Maria will come in a settled side – playing alongside the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Memphis Depay. He is the key to making a good team great; he is the incremental difference at the highest level. Any player of his rare skills would struggle to adapt to a new country, a different culture and an embryonic side.
He is still young, athletic and capable of producing world-class quality at the highest level. Time however will tell if he is able to break free from the veritable shackles that define the English game, but if there’s one thing he does possess, it’s the ability to overcome. The Decima winning season was the zenith of Di Maria’s career at Real. After two and a half seasons of confounding form, he finally found his rhythm, and delivered in full.
If United do make it to the Champions League, they will only benefit from Di Maria’s services against less physical opposition. Wether or not United are willing to ply their A?58 Million pound investment, solely for Europe is a matter of debate.
Currently he is wanting for confidence and form, but that doesn’t mean he should be cashed in at the earliest opportunity. He has had to bear the maximum weight of expectation in one of United’s most transitional periods. Once matters start to settle down, Di Maria will be given both the opportunity and license to unleash his creative ability and ascend to the astronomic expectations set for him.