Manchester United fans were obviously quite excited with the arrival of Angel Di Maria this summer, but there should be a hint of caution in amongst their expectations for him – all because of Chelsea star Eden Hazard.
A British record transfer fee of £59.7million was paid to Real Madrid for the Argentina international and social media went haywire with fans of the Old Trafford club claiming it as a statement that they were still the Premier League big boys.
Watching Di Maria playing for los Blancos in the latter stages of last season will have pretty much every club in the world wishing he played for them and not an insignificant number of experts and commentators suggested he was the Santiago Bernabeu club’s most impressive performer.
Louis van Gaal was in desperate need of some inspiration going forward, as his 3-5-2 formation deployment has so far failed to really get the best of the United players. Two goals in four competitive games is not great, and it was compounded by the fact that they could win none of those four games.
Di Maria was thrown straight into the starting line-up for the last of those – a trip away to Burnley – and there were some positive signs in his first half performance.
However, Chelsea showed in their professional dismissal of the Premier League new boys that Turf Moor is not exactly a fortress, making Manchester United’s 0-0 draw there especially poor.
Jose Mourinho saw two of his new signings Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas both make decisive contributions in their 3-1 win and both have looked completely at home in their new surrounds.
Eden Hazard was the star of this Blues side last season and there were moments when he looked irresistible on the left; sensational dribbling, so much pace, dangerous crossing.
Not all good news
But there is a cautionary tale in the Belgium international’s time at Chelsea so far for Manchester United, which may relate to the arrival of their talented winger
Anyone suggesting that Hazard is not a hugely talented player probably should have the sanity of every decision they make questioned, as there can be no argument that he is an exceptional player.
Except, it never seems quite enough. All the evidence is there; he gets his fair share of assists, he scores goals reasonably regularly and has an impressive highlights reel as any other player.
Yet, the glimpses we have got so far are yet to add up to something resembling long-term dominance – he’s good, but he isn’t as good as he should be.
Extra step not taken
Watch Hazard leave defenders in his wake once and you can be forgiven for thinking he could be the man to carry Chelsea to glory. He is yet to do that, and there may be some similarities with him and Angel di Maria.
It can be argued that Di Maria was undervalued by more people than just those who run Real Madrid, but he seems to have the same look to him as Hazard in terms of his effect on matches.
In terms of assists, he is up there with the best in Europe over the last few seasons and has a burst of pace so devastating that it is difficult to stop him once he gets into full flow.
Though, in a similar vein to his counterpart at Chelsea, it is far too rare for us to see him truly dominate like the Premier League greats of the past have done for as consistent period.
A case of personality?
Perhaps it is a character thing. Neither he nor Hazard seem short of confidence, some of the things they have done with a football make that clear, but there appears to be a lack of something more ruthless.
Di Maria and Hazard are both joys to watch in full flow, but we crave to see them really impose themselves on matches. Like Yaya Toure has done, or Luis Suarez did for Liverpool last season – make it all about them.
Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira were colossal in the success of Arsene Wenger’s early years. Yes, there were poor or subdued performances at times, but there was always the sense that at any moment their brilliance was going to be all-encompassing during a run of games.
That they were going to bend proceedings to their will. Every top team has had players like this; players who have the mettle to awaken in the midst of an uninspiring performance to divert the flow of the game.
Where can it be forged?
It is difficult to cultivate a character such as this, but it can be done. Hazard recently commented on his delight at the arrival of Costa and Fabregas, believing that two world class additions will take some of the burden of responsibility on him at Chelsea.
He is still only 23 years old, so there is time for him to become that character, that insatiable driving force of success that he most certainly has the talent to achieve.
The same goes for Di Maria; he will need time to adapt to the rigours of the Premier League, but it is in the benefit of fans of the English game that he finally steps out of the shadows of others.
Cristiano Ronaldo casts a considerably long shadow at Real Madrid, so the move to Manchester United may be exactly what is required. United need a saviour and he needs someone to save.
Any transfer is inherently risky, there is no telling how an individual will react to a new club in another country, but there is a nagging feeling that Di Maria is a player that will hit heights all too briefly.