Louis van Gaal must shoulder the blame for Angel di Maria's slump in form according to Danny Murphy, who says the Dutchman's perceived stubbornness is not helping the former Real Madrid winger reproduce the kind of performances that prompted Manchester United to break the British transfer record for his signature.
The Argentina international arrived at Old Trafford in a £59.7 million deal last summer with a burgeoning reputation as one of the greatest playmakers on the planet.
However, Red Devils fans have seen very little evidence to suggest the 27-year-old is anywhere near that level, after struggling to adapt to the Premier League and the demands of playing in Van Gaal's system.
Di Maria has contributed just four goals for Manchester United this season and has now gone 11 games without finding the net after being withdrawn early again in last night's 1-0 victory over Newcastle United at St James' Park.
It's the second match in a row that the South American has been hooked prematurely following Van Gaal's decision to substitute the attacking midfielder at half-time of his side's 2-0 win against Sunderland on Saturday.
However, Murphy is of the belief that the veteran tactician's treatment of the 2014 World Cup finalist is negatively affecting his confidence, and says that a change in tact is needed in order to coax the best out of him.
"Angel di Maria wasn't doing that badly against Newcastle," Murphy told talkSPORT. "If you're a player struggling, there are two ways to go about fixing it. The manager can either keep you in the team and let you play through it, or he takes you out and gives you a breather.
"Van Gaal has taken him off at half time against Sunderland, so the press is already all over him. He's obviously said to Di Maria before the Newcastle game, 'you start the game, get through it, perform, show me what you've got'.
"He wasn't bad but he wasn't great. Van Gaal decided to take him off after 55 minutes. Now, as a young player, you could accept it because you're learning and it might just be a bit too much for you.
"But Di Maria's a brilliant footballer, who is going through a hard time. He's had some off-the-field issues, and surely Van Gaal needs to help him out, put an arm round him and let him play through it.
"Surely the best interests of the team are having a flying fit Di Maria?" - Danny Murphy
He added: "It's hard to read Van Gaal sometimes. Maybe it's an arrogance and he wants to show people he's the boss, whether you're a 19-year-old or the superstar in the team. It might just be the case that the team comes first and you're not playing well enough.
"Managers have a stubbornness to prove people wrong. I haven't seen Van Gaal manage for long enough to see whether it is stubbornness or whether he genuinely thinks he's doing this for the best interests of the team.
"Surely the best interests of the team are having a flying fit Di Maria. By doing what he's done to him in the last few games it's a very difficult place to come back from."
With three goals and four assists in his first five matches, things started so well for Di Maria, but his last strike came in the FA Cup fourth round clash against Yeovil Town at Huish Park back In January.
And, with just 10 Premier League games left to play in 2014/15, the club-record signing is running out of time to prove the massive investment was actually worthwhile. In fact, Murphy reckons Di Maria should write off 2014/15 and focus on getting back to his best next season.
"They only have 10 games to go though in a brilliant fight with Tottenham, Liverpool and Arsenal for those remaining two Champions League places," he concluded. "You need your best players.
"Di Maria's spirit is not going to be high at the moment, the next game he plays he's going to be under enormous pressure because of what Van Gaal has done to him. I don't think we'll see the best of Di Maria until next season."
Manchester United fans: What is your assessment of Angel Di Maria's first season at Old Trafford? What do you think his problem has been in 2015? Share your thoughts below...
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