He came in under huge fanfare. But Angel Di Maria will likely leave in a cloud of indifference. Here’s why.
In stark contrast to his arrival just eleven months ago, the expected departure of Ángel Di María to Paris Saint-Germain has been greeted with shrugs of indifference by many. The French champions finally get the player they wanted last summer, Di María also gets a fresh start, and Manchester United will get enough of their financial investment back that the whole failed enterprise can be swept under the carpet. Everyone’s a winner.
Such is the way that these things work, Di María’s £60million fee compared to his overall contribution means that his name will forever be near the summit of the list of Premier League flops, but while it can’t really be said that his season in England was particularly fruitful, it really wasn’t the hideous embarrassment that future revisionism will have us believe.
Overseas players sometimes face a bit of a bedding in period before finding their feet. For Di María it seemed that this would not be an issue as he hit the ground running at his new club before injuries and World Cup fatigue finally got the better of him and his form dipped.
Louis van Gaal’s tactical uncertainty wasn’t much of a help to him either as the rotating of systems and formations never really allowed Di María to settle and adapt in such a way that would restore his shorn confidence and perhaps allow him to recapture that early season form.
So did Di María have a bad season? Objectively, it wasn’t that bad – he still managed to finish the season with 10 league assists, third only to Cesc Fàbregas and Santi Cazorla. The problem was though that as the club’s record signing, the pressure to preform was as constant as it was suffocating and as his form declined, the pressure increased until he finally lost his place in the team. Transfer fees can at times feel like a weight on a player’s shoulders and it did Di María no favours whatsoever.
Di María, had he the option, would never have left Real Madrid at the end of last season but following James Rodgríguez’s arrival at the Bernabéu the writing was on the wall. When a move to PSG fell victim to the restrictions of Financial Fair Play, Man United swooped in to capitalise.
Of course it’s debateable whether van Gaal even wanted or needed Di María in the first place.
After Alex Ferguson left and the nightmare season that followed the club needed something – anything – to show the world that they were still a big hitter in world football. Ed Woodward was also desperate for some good publicity following his own role in the post-Ferguson horror show.
Nothing says ‘statement of intent’ quite like dropping vast amounts of money on big-name players, and Di María was the highest profile player who was also definitely available. They needed what Di María represented far more than the player himself. This was a PR exercise, another positive move for the “global Manchester United brand” up there with the Adidas kit deal or a healthy position on the Forbes rich list.
The fact that Woodward didn’t even try to haggle with Real Madrid for a player they were actively trying to rid themselves of speaks volumes. It was Di María they bought but, in all probability, as long they fit a set of reputation-based criteria it could have been anyone. It’s the footballing equivalent of wearing a diamond-encrusted monocle – it’s wholly impractical but how else are people supposed to know how rich you are?
In Woodward’s defence, we’ve all been there. We’ve all neared the end of the transfer window on Football Manager when there is still a large amount of the transfer budget remaining – sometimes a player just gets bought for tens of millions of pounds with little to no foresight as to where this new extravagance is going to fit in to the team. It happens. It just shouldn’t happen in real life.
PSG, a squad already full of big names, are able to prioritise Di María as a player first and foremost who can bring something to the team. When asked about the potential new arrival, Zlatan Ibrahimović was positively effusive in his praise for the Argentine international:
“He is a fantastic player, He brings pace, big quality and for sure he will make our team even better.”
Such sentiments are likely to be massively appreciated by Di María. That’s not to suggest that he did not feel wanted at Old Trafford but it does imply that his possible new club would have more of an idea of what to do with him than van Gaal did.
It also helps PSG’s determination to recruit him almost guarantees him a starting place, whereas at his current club the additions of Memphis Depay, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin to an already competitive midfield and forward line mean that Di María would face a massive battle to work his way in contention, especially as van Gaal’s opinion of him isn’t all that high at the minute.
That Man United are apparently quite happy to cut their losses on Di María already is unfortunate, but also a reminder that football can be an impatient business. Last season wasn’t necessarily a failing on the part of either the player or van Gaal – sometimes certain players don’t suit a manager’s philosophy.
As he showed in all-too-brief flashes last season, there is still a highly talented player in there. It is now likely that PSG will be reaping the rewards of that whilst Man United reflect on a costly foray into ordering from the top shelf.