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The sad story of Angel Di Maria’s one season at Manchester United

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Just three months after Sir Alex Ferguson handed him the Man of the Match award following his performance for Real Madrid in the 2014 Champions League final against Atletico, Angel Di Maria had signed for Manchester United.

The Red Devils smashed the British transfer record to sign the revered Argentina international, who decided to leave the Bernabeu after Madrid purchased 2014 World Cup hero James Rodriguez, forking out a cool £59.7 million for his services.

"There is no doubting his immense natural talent," United’s manager Louis van Gaal told reporters after landing Di Maria. "He is a tremendously fast and incisive left-footed player who puts fear into the most accomplished defence. His dribbling skills and his ability to take on and beat opponents are a joy to watch. He is an excellent addition to the team."

United fans were understandably over the moon after securing the signature of one of the best wingers in world football. As Gary Neville told Sky Sports viewers at the time, he appeared a perfect fit for Man Utd’s traditional style of attack-minded football with his ability to carry the ball at speed down the wings.

That he was given United’s No. 7 shirt - the club’s most celebrated number, previously worn by the likes of Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo - increased excitement levels and made it clear to Di Maria he was now the club’s new superstar. Expectations were sky high.

But little did anyone know that Di Maria’s spell at Old Trafford would last just one season. It was to be the most difficult nine months of his career.

It all started so well. Di Maria was excellent during his first few weeks at United - his fabulous chipped goal in a 5-3 defeat against Leicester City was a particular highlight - and he deservedly won the club’s Player of the Month award for September 2014.

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However, it soon became apparent that Di Maria and Van Gaal were at completely opposite ends of the spectrum when it came to their views of how football should be played.

While Di Maria was a free spirit who flourished when given license to indulge in spontaneity, Van Gaal demanded his players carry out his instructions by the letter.

If they didn’t, they’d soon find themselves out the team.

This led to some of the most robotic, turgid football that Man Utd supporters have been forced to endure. The complete antithesis to the entertaining football Sir Alex Ferguson’s teams regularly produced over the previous two-and-a-half decades.

Di Maria, like everybody else associated with Man Utd, had been deceived by the entertaining football the Netherlands had shown under Van Gaal’s watch during the World Cup finals in Brazil months earlier.

The Independent claim Di Maria ended up ‘hating’ the ageing Dutch coach who, in the eyes of many, had been left behind by the sport.

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As he became increasingly ineffective in Van Gaal’s unsuccessful system, Di Maria was then struck down by an untimely hamstring injury which kept him out of action for the whole of December.

He returned to score in a FA Cup tie against Yeovil Town - but this would prove to be his fourth and final goal for the Red Devils as the South American’s spell took a downwards spiral both on and off the pitch.

Around the same time, it emerged that Di Maria and his young family had been the victims of a terrifying attempted robbery at their home in Cheshire.

Three thieves used scaffolding poles to smash their way into the mansion, while Di Maria, his wife and one-year-old daughter Mia were there.

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The traumatic incident left Di Maria’s wife Jorgelina Cardoso too scared to return home and the family ended up moving to the Lowry Hotel.

Unsurprisingly, reports soon emerged that Jorgelina wanted to leave Manchester and, preferably, England.

Di Maria’s form continued to nose-dive, with the nadir of his United spell occurring on March 9, when he was sent off in a 2-1 defeat against Arsenal in the FA Cup at Old Trafford.

After initially being booked for diving, Di Maria was shown a second yellow card for grabbing the shirt of referee Michael Oliver.

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After failing to turn up to the club’s pre-season tour months later, it became abundantly clear that the relationship between Di Maria and Man Utd was about to come to an abrupt end.

And in August 2015 - just under one year after joining the English giants - Di Maria and his family were finally free from their Manchester nightmare.

The South American joined Paris Saint-Germain in a deal worth £44.3 million - representing a massive £15.4 million loss for the Red Devils.

In all of their signings of the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era - and there have been many - Di Maria might just be the worst value-for-money purchase of the lot.

But with a different manager at the helm, things may have worked out very differently.

Di Maria, who turns 31 later this week, has been an integral player for PSG over the past three-and-a-half seasons, scoring 57 goals in 158 games and winning a host of major honours in the process, including two Ligue 1 titles and three French Cups.

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To his credit, he’s managed to re-establish his status as one of Europe’s elite players.

And on Tuesday evening he returns to Old Trafford for the first time since his disastrous spell with the Red Devils, acutely aware that the reception awaiting him from the fans who once cheered his name will be hostile to say the least.

It will be fascinating to see whether this spurs Di Maria on - he’ll be desperate to prove a point against his former employers - or whether, like on so many occasions during the 2014-15 season, he retreats back into his shell inside the Theatre of Dreams.

Topics:
UEFA Champions League
Football
Angel di Maria
Argentina Football
Paris Saint-Germain
Premier League
Manchester United

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