By Chris Wright
Alas, it looks for all the world like Angel Di Maria’s brief Premier League adventure is at an end.
Despite his scheduled post-season annual leave elapsing, the Argentinian winger has not joined his Manchester United colleagues on tour in America and is expected instead to sign for PSG before the week is out – thus bringing to a premature conclusion his largely barren dalliance with English football, one year into a five-year contract.
We came close to seeing the best of him. That goal against Leicester City way back in the primordial mists of last September. A magisterial little lob. But that was about it, by and large.
Of course there were other flourishes hither and thither, but Di Maria just looked limp in a Manchester United shirt. Limp and bloody miserable.
This, for a player who thrives on effervescence and spontaneity, was tantamount to surrender. Whether he couldn’t get going or just plain didn’t care, watching him weeble intermittently through games was just…well, disappointing.
So what went wrong? Even with the exorbitant money taken out of the equation, Di Maria, in general, has been the square root of garbage for United – totally flaccid, useless. A marzipan dildo, to quote one of the greats.
With the money placed back in the equation, the Press Association have done the maths and worked out that he has cost United £612,500 per game – and that’s only if they manage to recoup £45million for him from PSG (the Ligue 1 champions have opened the bidding at £29million). We hope they kept the receipt.
For the majority of his debut season he looked uninterested, unwilling and at odds with absolutely everything: his position, his role, the amount of defensive responsibility he was tasked with, the dynamic of the team, the language, the fans, his teammates, his manager, being tackled, England in general.
On the domestic front, the attempted burglary on his new family home in January definitely didn’t help, though we wonder if such an event – while undoubtedly traumatic at the time – should still be wicking away your life essence four or five months on down the line.
As well as the sporadic and disruptive hamstring woes, there’s also an argument that Louis van Gaal mis-managed him past the point of no return. Players of Di Maria’s flighty, creative ilk need mollycoddling, to feel both unburdened and supported. The helping hand, not the iron fist.
Sadly, the luxury player has a hard time proving his worth in today’s rigid, hyper-strategised football framework. Simply turning it on as and when isn’t acceptable any more, it would seem.
It was this exact same lack of conviction that eventually led to Di Maria’s slide down the food chain at Real Madrid. The only difference is that it’s all been fast-forwarded at United. Maybe it’s just in his nature?
When all is said and done, the most disappointing aspect for Pies is that, while it may have taken that enormous £59.7million wodge to get him here, Di Maria is/was one of the decidedly few genuine elite level, top-of-the-tree players to arrive ready-made in the Premier League from foreign soil as opposed to the other way round.
For all the money and Sky Sports-peddled ‘Best League In The World™’ hyperbole, it’s not often Premier League clubs are actually able to entice the top-tier stars of Europe’s major clubs unto their bosom.
Arsenal have made a decent fist of it by signing Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, but other good examples are a little harder to come by.
We want to see these wonderful players thrive, prove to the braying masses just how good they really are. To see a player of Di Maria’s capability reduced to a flimsy punchline is soul-sapping, though frustratingly difficult to argue with.