All things considered, Manchester United were extremely lucky to get their hands on Angel Di Maria this summer.
For all the rhetoric of the club being an unstoppable juggernaut up until Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, and the lofty expectations of a fan base so used to suckling on the teet of success that they’ve forgotten what it feels like to be as malnourished as those who follow a normal club, the former Premier League champions were fortuitous, to put it mildly.
Luck in the transfer window
It was a combination of the promise of an immediate return to the summit of English football and the introduction of the tried and trusted Louis van Gaal which allowed United to lure the likes of Di Maria and Radamel Falcao to Old Trafford. That and the added bonus of having a virtually inexhaustible financial backing.
£150 million is the figure stuffed down the throats of United supporters every time they find something to celebrate this season - admittedly they haven’t had much. In actual fact they spent over £150 million when all their summer transfers are totted up. Six fresh faces were introduced to Van Gaal’s squad, including the lucrative loan of Radamel Falcao, with Di Maria sitting pretty in the capacity of ‘marquee signing’.
The Gaalactico era
Given their club’s expenditure United fans would be forgiven for having expected a little more oomph from the squad labelled as the ‘Gaalacticos’, and even though they occupy a Champions League spot at present, the team have flattered to deceive. Had Lady Luck not been dressed as a Red Devil on Saturday it would be Arsenal who would be positioned in fourth, and United could have found themselves as low as 10th.
Of course it’s early days yet, and there’s still more football to be played than has already been witnessed. That doesn’t mean that a nagging question of ‘what if’ isn’t beginning to seep out of Old Trafford like a corrosive poison.
The major questions
'What if' United fail to address the issues so obviously inherent within their squad, and, as a direct consequence, end up failing to ensure that their hiatus from Europe’s elite competition lasts only the one year? Will the Glazer family whip the managerial axe back out from the closet and use it for the second time since 2013? Will the spending merely increase in an effort to guarantee a degree of success?
The biggest 'what if' however is formed by an idea which has the power to make or break the United of the future. What if the best players Van Gaal has at his disposal decide that they want more than to wait around for the glory days to return?
A failure-induced exodus
Naturally all eyes will fall on the individuals who don’t necessarily have any emotional ties at the club. In this instance the marquee name set to find himself at the centre of attention, once again, is Di Maria. Coincidentally he’s also the player who will find himself in the highest demand should things go to pot and the vultures of the European market decide to swoop.
It can be assumed that the remainder of Van Gaal’s new batch shouldn’t pose too much of a problem with regards to looking for a hasty exit. Luke Shaw, Daley Blind and Marcos Rojo are all young enough to be satisfied with the odds falling in favour of United improving significantly in the coming years, whereas Ander Herrera, it could be argued, is looking to make his name at Old Trafford, not use it as a stepping stone to get somewhere else.
As for Falcao he remains a player contracted to AS Monaco, and if his injury struggles persist in doggedly curtailing his chances of stringing a good run games together his future in Ligue 1 might become a doubt, let alone the prospect of United shelling out an extortionate amount of money for him.
Losing Mr. pivotal
Di Maria is different. Last season’s man of the match from the Champions League final, his options were very much open when it came to moving away from Real Madrid this summer. He wasn’t a player looking to get his break; he was already a certified superstar. He didn’t need the United move; United desperately needed him.
That, coupled with the fact that he was hounded by Paris Saint-Germain for much of the last transfer window, is why Van Gaal and Co. are so lucky to have him at their disposal. Yet while luck drove him into the open arms of all those who adore England’s most successful club, it’s going to take far more to keep him there.
PSG's looming threat
Rumours are growing in France that Laurent Blanc is keen to rekindle his interest in Di Maria, having lost out on the 26-year-old thanks to the obstacle of Financial Fair Play. The player himself has admitted that the only thing that put paid to a potential move to the Parc des Princes was said money issues, and neutrals will watch his situation with interest if the same sort of moves are attempted next summer.
One willing season without Champions League football was a surprising precedence for a player who on his day ranks effortlessly amongst the world’s best, but United would be advised not to expect a second to follow suit.
It was with luck that they enticed him in the first place, and Van Gaal needs to deliver him chances on the European stage or run the considerable risk that he’ll abandon the cause when PSG return with their affluence come the end of the season.