Angel is a name that conjures up all kind of ecclesiastical images. A saviour. A messenger from God. A heavenly instrument tasked with our salvation. A vampire who falls in love with Buffy.
When Real Madrid’s Angel Di Maria signed for United and was promptly handed the number 7 shirt it seemed like a match made in heaven. In more ways than one. Di Maria was Ronaldo 2.0. Less goals but more assists. Less ego but more of a team player. A skilful genius who put the team ahead of his own importance. But ultimately just as much a winner as Ronaldo.
It’s easy to criticise Di Maria and look back on his time at United as a disaster. On the surface it was. The Argentine joined United for almost £60 million and left a year later for a lot less, without lifting any silverware.
There’s little doubt his performances in a red shirt were well below those for Los Blancos. Di Maria managed just four goals for United. He went missing in many games. The team finished fourth in the Premier League. Hardly a success.
Louis van Gaal and a match made in hell
When Di Maria arrived he was lauded as a sign United were back among Europe’s elite. The David Moyes era was well and truly over. Thank God. Finishing seventh had been an aberration. Now with Louis van Gaal at the helm, a bulging transfer budget – United were back. Therein, as the Bard wrote, lies the rub.
Di Maria was bought partly to prove a point. And it wasn’t a tactical one. Signing one of Real Madrid’s star players showed the Reds were still a force to be reckoned with. It reminded everyone that despite City’s title win, the balance of power hadn’t truly shifted. Our rivals sat up and took notice. Di Maria wasn’t the only signing. Striking superstar Radamel Falcao arrived on loan from Monaco. Add to that long-term target Ander Herrera, the highly-rated Daley Blind and teenage sensation Luke Shaw. United weren’t playing games anymore. Especially after the transfer chaos of the previous season.
I was fortunate enough to attend Di Maria’s ‘unveiling’ where he looked a tad startled by all the attention. It was to be the story of his time at United. It’s easy to forget that at first, Di Maria had United fans buzzing. He was skilful, willing to take players on and rapid. What’s not to like? His early performances brought comparisons with Ronaldo. Di Maria actually picked up the club’s player of the month award for September. And rightly so.
Angel Di Maria starts to fall
Just when it seemed as though United had pulled off a major coup bagging the new number seven. It all began to go horribly wrong. Di Maria picked up an injury against Hull City in October. You could argue his United career never fully recovered. In the winger’s defence, he suffered not just from a lack of form but also a manager who’d lost the plot. Van Gaal may have lifted the FA Cup during his time at United. He may have given a debut to Marcus Rashford. But he also gave us Wayne Rooney as a defensive midfielder and Di Maria as a striker. Playing Di Maria up front was a disaster and came at the worst possible time. The Argentina international was already struggling. And things were about to get worse.
An attempted burglary at Di Maria’s house was hardly going to help him settle in to his new surroundings. With fans, and even reportedly players turning on him, the winger wasn’t happy. And it showed.
By the end of the campaign, Di Maria’s performances were that bad he was labeled the worst signing of the season by many pundits. When Paris Saint Germain came in for him with a £44 million bid, many of us were relieved. No doubt he was too.
PSG and Di Maria – a match made in heaven
Since he left Old Trafford though the ‘old’ Di Maria has returned. Over 50 goals in less than four seasons, shows Di Maria has excelled in the French capital.
With Neymar and Edison Cavani out of tonight’s game, Di Maria could be vital for the visitors. All eyes will be on wunderkind – or should that be enfant prodige – Kylian Mbappe. It would be foolish for United to downplay Di Maria’s influence though. In many ways, being out of the limelight has helped the Argentinean. At United he was the marquee signing and number 7. At PSG, he’s arguably the fourth most talked about player. He’s the fourth wheel in a tricycle of stars – and it suits him.
United may not have seen the best out of the man nicknamed ‘noodle’ but we’d be off ours to ignore him. Di Maria may not have been the Angel we craved at United. But for PSG he’s been heaven sent.
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