When Angel di Maria completes his move to Paris Saint Germain sometime this week, the British record transfer signing at £59.7million will be keen to forget the single season he spent at Old Trafford which supposedly “ruined’ the winger according to one of Argentina’s backroom staff.
Di Maria wanted to move to Paris last season itself although the transfer didn’t transpire because of the FFP restrictions on the Ligue 1 champions. He ended up in England where he earned £280k/week but as fate would have it, they paled in comparison with the difficulties he was facing on and off the pitch.
His move heralded the start of a successful post Ferguson era, but even as Louis van Gaal’s men look to make a serious challenge for the title in the upcoming season, Di Maria won’t be a part of it.
Move to United
On the back of a draining campaign with Real Madrid where he ended up putting a man of the match performance in the Champions League final which brought Real Madrid the much coveted La Decima, Di Maria was forced to depart the club against his wishes and later himself admitted that the World Cup brought about a lot of change in him because he gave everything with his national side that went on to reach the final but came up short against Germany.
He had thrived that year due to the unrestricted way in which he was allowed to play, given the freedom to carry the ball and go on explosive runs. He started life in England with three goals in his first four league games. They seem a distant memory almost a year on as he failed to add to his Premier League tally over the course of the season even though 3 goals and 10 assists are by no means a poor return.
Life in Manchester
A South American uprooting his life in Spain and moving to England must be a daunting task. Apart from having the obvious language problems, the culture and weather takes time in getting acclimatised to. Add to this the fact that he was here against his wishes.
To make matters even worse, imagine thieves trying to smash your patio doors down when you are having dinner with your wife and your one-year old daughter on a Saturday night. This is what happened with him during the back end of January, and as Gary Neville noted, “No matter what your profession or where you live, you cannot overstate the psychological impact of having your home breached by an intruder.” He took solace in hotels before subsequently moving into Phil Neville’s 45th floor apartment in Manchester.
Things on the pitch weren’t looking rosy as well.
The manager used Di Maria in a variety of positions giving him different roles and his versatility was never fully utilised. Tata Martino’s staff members later complained that Van Gaal had used Di Maria in limited ways and the Dutchman barely had a relationship with the winger. The penetrative runs from deep that were his speciality went missing in the system which demanded discipline. Moreover, playing as an attacking midfielder behind the strikers, those runs couldn’t be made so close to the defensive midfielders and the centrebacks.
Second half of the season
Constant injuries had also played their part in disrupting Di Maria’s stint at the club as he failed in his attempts to settle down.
Post the break-in, Di Maria suffered an irreversible damage in form. His last goal in the Red shirt came against Yeovil Town in the FA Cup and he had to carry a large part of the blame for his side crashing out against Arsenal in the quarter finals when he was sent off for petulant behaviour – having been booked for diving, he grabbed referee Michael Oliver’s shirt who had little option but to dismiss him.
He played a peripheral role as United all but secured the final Champions League place with consecutive dominating wins over Spurs, Villa and then Liverpool.
It was then when the point of no return came. Leading against ten-men Liverpool at Anfield, Di Maria was brought on for Ashley Young for the best part of the second half in order to hurt the home side on the break. But the winger looked so bereft of confidence and put in such a poor display that Van Gaal apparently blasted the player after the game. From then on, he was laregely restricted to substitute appearances in a congested five man midfield and the end looked nigh.
Angel Di Maria completed 90 minutes in the Premier League only seven times in the season.
Angel Di Maria has assisted 10 PL goals this season. No Man Utd player has assisted more since A Valencia in 2011-12 (13).
Only Cesc Fabregas (160.6mins) required fewer minutes per assist in the Premier League last season than Di Maria (164.5mins).
Di Maria failed to score in his last 23 Premier League appearances.
Di Maria created 2.85 chances per game.
Di Maria earned only one start over United’s final 10 Premier League matches.
“He can’t say he’s had a marvellous season here,” Van Gaal observed after the season was over. “You have to adapt to our philosophy and that’s also difficult for him, probably. Di Maria has to adapt to the English rhythm of the game. That’s a high standard and a big difference with other countries.”
Di Maria is by no means an average player. That he was named on the shortlist for the 2014 Ballon D’Or shows why United were willing to break transfer records but utlimately due to various reasons, the move didn’t work out.
He didn’t have the best of times in the Copa America initially but shone in the latter stages putting in a remarkable display in the 6-1 thrashing of Paraguay where he bagged a brace. He looks set to light up Paris next season, and his partnership with compatriot Javier Pastore will further blossom over there.
United won’t mind the £15m loss in a season where it was necessary for them to return to the top four. The talented player and Van Gaal simply didn’t work out together.