When Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United’s legendary manger presented Angel di Maria with the Man-of-the-Match award after the winger’s scintillating performance in the UEFA Champions League final against cross town rivals Atletico Madrid, little did he realise that he was probably giving his blessing to a midfielder who would assume the haloed and iconic No.7 jersey that has been donned by a select few in Manchester United’s chequered history.
For Angel di Maria, through a quirk of Real Madrid’s often complicated transfer matrix, is moving to Old Trafford, to the unexpected joy of the Red Devils’ multitudes of fans and conversely, to the obvious dismay of quiet of a few Los Blancos fans, to put it rather mildly.
Angel di Maria has become a victim of Real president Florentino Perez’s ‘Galactico' policy, a policy that has seen the cream of the world’s best line up for Europe’s most successful club, often to the detriment of a team’s balance.
Perez first rose to be the head of Los Merengues in 2000 on the promise that the Madrid club would sign Portuguese international and then world superstar Luis Figo from bitter rivals Barcelona. After this he added Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo (the Brazilian sensation) and David Beckham in subsequent years as the policy gathered steam.
But it was the initial move to sign Figo that caused shockwaves and even now remains probably the world’s most controversial transfer. When you add the likes of Raul and Iker Casillas, Roberto Carlos and Michel Salgado to such an already potent mix, then surely it was a given that this team would dominate La Liga and win the UCL for fun, right? Wrong.
For despite clinching the UCL for the 9th time with a 2-1 defeat of Bayer Leverkusen capped by a superb Zidane volley in 2002, Real Madrid had to wait until last May to overcome Atletico Madrid 4-1in a match in which they had to virtually come back from the dead, with no small amount of effort from di Maria.
‘La Decima’ had eventually arrived after more than ten years of waiting but overall, bitter rivals Barcelona have dominated the La Liga and UCL titles since the 2000-01 season when Perez initially took over, winning 6 times to Los Blancos’ five league titles whilst Valencia have two titles. The story is the same in the UCL; Barca have won three Champions League titles (2006, 2009, 2011) compared to Los Blancos’ wins in 2003 and 2014.
So despite Perez’s insistence on such a policy, this has not necessarily translated into instant and sustained success, especially as it’s tempered by the fact that from 2006 right up to 2009, the construction magnate had quit the post.
Still questions remain
So why have Los Blancos sold their star man, a player who even opposition managers openly
admire and declare to be Real’s best player? Did manager Carlo Ancelloti really want him to leave?
And despite the transfer request that the Argentine international reportedly slapped in, are we to believe that the player really wanted to quit after a season in which he played such an influential role?
Why then would the Real president insist on his departure? There are so many
questions begging for an answer.
One school of thought is Perez is anxious to clinch the signature of Colombia and AS Monaco’s Radamel Falcao to become the latest Galactico.
It would have been impossible to add the ex-Atletico Madrid hitman without displacing another star-player and with also the need to balance the books and wage bill. Not that Real are in any danger of falling foul of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules, but the squad itself would be too top heavy with Los Blancos then having to pay massive wages for players who hardly get game time.
So the fall guy has to be Di Maria who commands less wages and came at a lesser cost than the other Galacticos. In addition, his position in attack is already under threat from World Cup star and top scorer James Rodriguez who came for the small matter of £63million from AS Monaco, about three times the fee Perez sanctioned for Di Maria when he arrived from Benfica about 4 years ago, hence the need to jettison him.
Exploiting La Decima
Of course, Perez realises the worth of the Argentine to Ancelotti’s squad but with La Decima having already been clinched, this may well be the time to cash in on Di Maria’s worth, ensuring Los Blancos get maximum value for a player who in all probability will not be worth the same in a couple of years’ time.
It’s a paradox of sorts and is akin to replacing an expensive luxury vehicle’s key component at the moment when the engine is at its peak, with an equally expensive one just after a very good journey. But Perez is nothing if not a stickler for acquiring new Galacticos even, as is apparent in this instance, at the expense of an existing one. It also goes without saying that the player really did not want to leave nor did Ancelotti.
Squad pleas over sale
Even Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos, the two most influential players are said to have petitioned Perez to re-consider but all this would have been nothing but a mere speed bump for a determined Florentino Perez Rodriguez.
As the dust settles though one thing is clear from all sides; from Los Blancos themselves to the Old Trafford side and even to the unwitting pawn in all this, Angel di Maria: each party is under pressure to deliver.
For Madrid, Carlo Ancelotti is the general who has to lead his troops to victory in a series of battles with the enforced but unendorsed (from his side, anyway) absence of a major soldier.
To compound Ancelotti’s situation, his very job will be on the line should Real fail to land La Liga this season, even if the Falcao deal does not happen this term.
Man Utd positon
As for United manager Louis van Gaal, it’s a classic case of “be careful of what you wish for”.
Having stated in a recent press conference that United did not possess any wide players of the caliber of Ronaldo or Di Maria, the Dutchman has landed one of the world’s prime talents at his peak.
Having failed to get a worthy successor for Beckham’s No.7 jersey since May 2003, United are now expected to deliver on at least a top 3 finish this season and after that, a title to justify such outlay. As for Di Maria himself, the shirt number worn by such illustrious names as George Best, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona, Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo will bring with it a unique expectation beyond what he has experienced at the Bernabeu.
All the aforementioned wore it with distinction and each amassed at least 2 league titles to go and a European trophy for good measure. Both Di Maria and Van Gaal will look to write their own unique history.