It seems that from the first moment Angel Di Maria stepped onto the tarmac at Manchester Airport, the Argentinian and former Real Madrid winger was being linked with a move away from his new club, Manchester United. Although a slight exaggeration, speculation about the wide man’s future has been rife since early February, when his family home in Cheshire was targeted by burglars, seriously unsettling the player and his wife, with the latter becoming increasingly unhappy with life in England.
There are not many sides in world football capable of gathering the funds to launch a bid to prise Di Maria away from Old Trafford, with the press taking note of such a fact, linking the player with financial powerhouses such as cross city rivals, Manchester City, and French Champions, Paris St Germain. With the Sky Blues announcing the signing of Raheem Sterling, and United unwilling to negotiate with their rivals, City seem to be out of the running, and speculation has mounted in recent days that PSG bosses are ready to swoop for the former Galactico. There is no doubting the Rosario born forwards pedigree, but after a lacklustre debut campaign with the Old Trafford outfit, would letting Di Maria depart affect United’s ability to compete for the title?
Let us first take a look at the Di Maria Louis Van Gaal opted to break the British transfer record to acquire. In a team filled with world stars, Di Maria excelled, registering a remarkable 62 assists in only 125 league and European starts, and finding the target on 30 occasions whilst in Madrid. This represents Di Maria as contributing a goal every 1.36 games, a fantastic return from a single player, and a reason why his former side have been so prolific in front of goal in recent years. His partnership with a certain Cristiano Ronaldo proved bountiful, and the 3 time Ballon D’or winner was reportedly disgusted when news arrived that his partner in crime was to be sold to his former club. The stats recorded by the winger in Spain prove the player to be one of the best in the world, but many have questioned the Argentine after his first season in England failed to live up to expectation. There is no doubt that Louis Van Gaal has not experienced an acceptable return on his investment, and United fans are sure to be disappointed by the performances of the man who promised so much.
The Premier League is like no other, and the rigorous demands and nature of the division have unnerved many stars that have made the move from other European leagues. Spanish football lacks the bite of the English top flight, and space and time that Di Maria possessed in abundance in Spain may not be as readily available in English football. It takes time to adapt to a new league and culture, and language barriers exist to further restrict Di Maria’s integration into life at the Theatre of Dreams.
Yet despite the difficulties of adapting to new surroundings off the pitch, football is a universal language, and many would have expected Di Maria to transfer his class to the Premier League with consummate ease. Injuries played a role in disrupting the player from establishing a regular starting berth, and the form of colleague Ashley Young saw Van Gaal give the Englishman the nod over Di Maria, even when the Argentine was available. With all respect to Young, who had a strong season, the player is not in the same bracket as Angel Di Maria, and it would have come as a surprise to many to see Di Maria warming the bench. Yet Van Gaal is a hard taskmaster, and reputation would not be enough to sway the Dutchman into handing Di Maria a starting berth. Almost a year on from the transfer, and with the player having had a chance to return to South America to compete in the Copa America, a tournament in which Di Maria greatly impressed with a WhoScored.com rating of 7.90, the expectation will be that the winger will excel in his second season in English football.
The press seem keen to blame the aforementioned February break in on Di Maria’s supposed keenness for a move, but Di Maria’s decline in form began long before this event. Flashback to the start of the season, and despite a 5-3 defeat to Leicester at the King Power Stadium, Di Maria treated United fans to a taste of his talents, with a delightful chip over Kasper Schmeichel to register one of his first United goals. I myself was behind that goal in the Leicester end, and the finish could only be likened to a Lionel Messi special expected to be seen on the highlight reel of a recent Barcelona fixture. Di Maria declined in the build up to Christmas, before totalling losing himself after the February incident, being substituted prematurely in games during this period, before totally losing his spot in the starting eleven. There is no doubt that the incident affected Di Maria’s form, and the winger seemed to lose all motivation to regain his spot, with the fear for the safety of his family looming over him at all times. However, it is widely reported that Di Maria is pushing for a move to Paris to link up with PSG, and reports suggest the key motive for a move being the player’s fear his family’s safety. However, as the below image shows, crime rates, and specifically property crimes such as theft, which Di Maria was victim of, is actually higher in Paris, suggesting the player and his brood to be even more at risk in the French capital. If Di Maria were to blame the incident on his desire to move, then it could arguably be considered an easy escape route from a troubled season in which his talent has come into question, and the player is merely using such an excuse as a guise for an ulterior motive.
If Di Maria were to find himself on the move this summer, would he be missed by United, or would his transfer in fact benefit the club? Di Maria has his first year in England out of the way, and although difficult, the player will now be fully aware of the Premier League, and what is demanded of its star performers. A summer in Chile with his international team-mates will have given the winger ample opportunity to reflect on his career, and to make a decision as to where his future lies. Di Maria is undoubtedly talented, and the potential his second year in English football contains is unimaginable. His manager has laid down a statement of intent with recent additions to the squad, and Di Maria will surely be intrigued by the transfer business conducted by his club in the window so far. With more signings expected to be announced by United in the coming weeks, Van Gaal may have built a side capable of regaining the title, and Di Maria will surely be excited by the prospect of adding to the gongs he achieved in the Spanish capital. With Di Maria and Depay on the flanks, and the promise of a world class striker expected to join the ranks, the Argentine may establish partnerships on the scale achieved when in the famous white shirt alongside Cristiano Ronaldo. Success in England would surely reaffirm his position as one the most elite performers on the planet, and if Di Maria is serious about his career, such a reward should be high on his priority list.
So if Di Maria were to stay, Manchester United would still be in possession of one of the brightest wingers on the planet, but where would the club be left if Di Maria were no longer to be under their employment come September 1st? One possible outcome is that the club is sure to be out of pocket, as it is unlikely would be suitors, PSG, would be willing to match the near £60 million United forked out for the player only last summer. A cash deal for the player seems even more unlikely however, and it is expected that if a deal were to be completed, then it would involve PSG stars moving in the other direction. Having bolstered their ailing midfield, and allowed 3 senior strikers to leave the club on permanent deals this summer, it is no secret that United are in need of a ready-made, 30 goal a season world class striker. Many have identified the player to fill such a role as PSG’s own Edinson Cavani, with the Uruguayan proving prolific during spells with PSG, and former club, Napoli.
A straight swap between the two would see United lose Di Maria, and fans never being presented the opportunity to see Di Maria at full strength in English football, but would see a fantastic goal scorer plying his trade on English shores. A proven, powerful forward, Cavani would bring a new dimension to the United attack, and perhaps provide the goal scoring threat and prowess United lacked last season. The Red Devils are crying out for such a player, so a deal for Cavani may even take place without the inclusion of Di Maria, but adding the Argentinian to the deal would sure to be too tantalising an offer for the French side to turn down. With funds to spend though, United are in the market, and a big cash offer may be enough to tempt a sale. Although the loss of Di Maria would be a shame in the sense that his true talents have not been witnessed, the winger was arguably such an ineffective performer last season that United would have achieved exactly the same had he not signed for the club. As previously mentioned, Di Maria often struggled to dislodge Ashley Young from the side, so surely United would not suffer from the loss of last season’s rather expensive bench warmer. With Memphis Depay already available for selection, United have a ready-made starter to fill the hole left by Di Maria, so his departure would arguably not cause mass disruption to the side. However, United are short on quality out wide, and with Nani’s loan now a permanent move, United may find themselves light in the department. Despite this, Van Gaal seems keen to utilise a 3-5-2 wing-back formation, so perhaps wingers are not key to the Dutchman’s plans, with width expected to come from those selected to operate the wingback roles, positions sure to be designated to new signing, Matteo Darmian, and £30 million teenager and former Southampton starlet, Luke Shaw.
Despite United seemingly able to cope with the player’s departure, United fans are sure to be drooling at the prospect of seeing Di Maria and Depay lining up on opposite flanks, and watching opposition defences tormented week after week by the skilful pair. If the Argentine has been able to get his head together, and convince his family that England is the right place for their development, then the winger will surely be returning to his club full of confidence, and ready to finally step up and add himself into the history books as the latest United number 7 to set the country alight. Di Maria remains a quality player despite a poor first season, and although United fans may not be too disheartened if the player were to depart, those loyal to the club will surely be hoping that Di Maria stays, and exhibits the form that saw him named on the shortlist for the 2014 Ballon D’Or.