By Kris Carpenter, @AFCfreddie8
The date: 26th of August 2014. Manchester United Football Club announce a club and English football record deal of £59.7m to sign Argentine attacking midfield star Angel Di Maria from Real Madrid. A transfer that would set tongues wagging and eyebrows raising among the British footballing community – and with good reason. Di Maria arrived in Manchester on the back of a World Cup campaign that saw him play five of Argentina’s matches, scoring one goal, and from a domestic season at Real Madrid made up of twenty seven starts, four goals, and a truly staggering seventeen assists. So with the number seven shirt in hand and a freshly inked contract everything was set for “Fideo” to tear up the Premier League & guide United back to the glory days. That, however, wouldn’t happen.
Things started well, grabbing a home debut goal and an assist against QPR, playing from the left side of 4-1-3-2 formation. This before what was arguably his stand out performance against Leicester City at The King Power stadium, where despite going down in a 5-3 defeat, Di Maria beautifully chipped United’s second and assisted Ander Herrera’s strike on the day. A further goal and assist combo would arrive against Everton in the next fixture, but things were about to towards the negative for the fleet-footed maestro.
During the period of mid-October to the end of the calendar year 2014, the Argentine started to become the victim of Manager Louis Van Gaal’s rotation of both squad and systems. In fact, upon his eventual exit from Old Trafford, Di Maria would play no fewer than six different positions in a total of 21 differing roles within a formation!
Hamstring and groin injuries further hampered his playing time in the build up to the festive period. As time passed, it was becoming clear LvG simply didn’t trust the man with such a mercurial talent. The fact that he was only a substitute against lowly Yeovil Town in the January FA Cup tie only added further wait to the claims his career in Manchester was on the slide. It should be noted that when brought on in that fixture, he grabbed the late clinching goal! It would be his final goal in the Red of United.
Before the close of the 2014/15 season, Di Maria would make a further twenty appearances before heading off for a summer break amid rabid transfer speculation linking him with a move overseas, something that was clear both player and club were open to if the right deal could be struck. After a summer of speculation, on August 6th 2015 Manchester United confirmed the sale of Di Maria to Ligue 1 powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain. In a deal reported to be worth £44.3m, the player himself was quoted “I am very happy to join Paris Saint-Germain. What I know about PSG is that they are a team who have won all possible titles in France last season. They’re very important”. Had he instead have said “Thank god for that, I’m free to enjoy my football once again” it wouldn’t have been too much of a shock in truth!
Now in season 2015-16 and a new chapter in ADM’s life and career, it is fair to say thus far the move has reignited a player who had previously lost his smile. Coming on to make his debut vs Monaco in a 0-3 away win as a substitute for Lucas Moura, it took just 17mins for Di Maria to provided an assist for Ezequiel Lavezzi. Receiving the ball tight to the touchline on the far side of pitch before coming inside, Di Maria held off two Monaco midfielders before releasing a simply stunning left-footed pass over the top with pin point precision to his Argentine national team colleague Lavezzi, who, without having to break stride due to the perfection of the pass, finished low in to the right hand corner. What a start; what an impact!
11 days later, Di Maria would make his full debut for the club in a 2-2 home draw against Bordeaux; his first appearance at the Parc des Princes where he was given a hero’s welcome stepping onto the pitch. A first goal in his new colours would arrive soon after in the next match, a Champions League tie again Malmo, where Di Maria latched onto a Marco Verratti pass before accelerating beyond the last defender and finishing beautifully from a tight angle after four minutes. PSG won the game 2-0.
Two more goals in his next five games coupled with another assist confirmed his settling in period was a very short one. If he needed any reminder of his fan appreciation, he received a huge ovation from fans of his former club Real Madrid as the Spanish giants claimed a 0-0 draw in late October against PSG. This would only fuel the fire that Los Blanco’s still held him very close to their hearts and maybe regretted letting him leave so soon.
Having quickly become an integral part to the newest PSG project Angel ‘s form has gone from strength to strength. At the time of writing this piece he had six goals to his name and a simply superb nine assists in just fifteen starts for the club, amongst that list was a hat-trick of setups against Lyon in week eighteen of Ligue1 in a 5-1 victory. An amazing stat courtesy of the official Ligue1 website shows 27% of PSG’s passes have belonged to the magician thus far this season, 81.3% of which have been successful (www.Whoscored.com). Adding to these stats, his shots on target ratio currently stands at a high of 13/40, while drawing 15 fouls against him clearly shows opponents have real issues dealing with his creativity. An overall performance rating of 8.10 (again from WhoScored) completes my stat talk.
As I bring this blog post to a conclusion I feel it is only right that I explain why I chose to do something I rarely do: write!
As a man in his early thirties you would think I would still be enjoying a pint at the pub, eating out and other social occasions; but alas, I actually prefer watching football, lots of football, taking in an average of twenty to thirty matches a week from all around the world. Aside from my love of Arsenal, my passion lies in French football, and as such I have seen a fair bit of PSG with Di Maria’s arrival genuinely exciting me.
Having sat through many a game last season where Ligue1’s powerhouse side would grind the gears winning week after week but largely not entertain, Di Maria’s signing was a step in the creative department I craved and this season thus far has been nothing short of a pleasure to watch as this immensely talented footballer seems to be at his very best.
The ability to pick a pass from an impossible angle, the speed of thought in seeing a gap that many wouldn’t even begin to imagine exists, such quick feet with the ball to allow a speedy and expansive style of play for the team (whether from a wide role or attacking centrally) are all part of the reasons why I enjoy watching the man in question. And, to add to that long list the composure and silky smooth finishing when in a position to add to his goal tally is something to behold and certainly something one Edinson Cavani would do well to learn from!
In summary, Angel Di Maria holds a special place for me as a lover of truly world class footballers, a term that is thrown around far too often these days. The ability to light up a game and get you off your seat is rare so if you have never watched French football or PSG, please, I urge you to do so when ADM is in the line-up. Watching this player is watching a man at the very top of his game, giving you freedom to appreciate just how much talent he brings to a team that just might be Europe’s next big force in the coming years.