An expensive flop who lasted just a single season at Manchester United, Angel di Maria might be keen to prove a point when he goes back to Old Trafford as a Paris Saint-Germain player today.
The Argentine, who turns 31 later this week, has a vital role to play for PSG in their crunch Champions League last 16, first leg against a resurgent United with Neymar and Edinson Cavani out injured. Those absences will place even more of an onus on Di Maria to show why PSG were prepared to make him their superstar signing in the summer of 2015, two years before Neymar and Kylian Mbappe arrived in the French capital.
The former Benfica and Real Madrid man cost United a British record transfer fee of just under £60mn (almost 75mn euros at the time) in 2014, but he was an unmitigated failure in England. Di Maria scored only three times in 27 Premier League appearances in 2014/15 for a United side who finished fourth, a long way behind champions Chelsea.
His time in England was also marred by an attempted burglary on his family’s home outside Manchester that reportedly left his wife and daughter terrified, and keen to get away. His manager that year, Louis van Gaal, had hailed Di Maria as “world class” on his arrival, but their relationship quickly turned sour, with the player blaming the Dutchman for playing him out of position.
“I only stayed one year. It wasn’t the best period of my career, or they didn’t let me have my best time there,” Di Maria said in a recent interview with radio station France Bleu. “There were problems with the coach at the time. But thanks to God, I was able to come to PSG and be myself again.”
United made a loss when they sold Di Maria for 63mn euros (£44.3mn at the time), but it was very much PSG’s gain. Nicknamed ‘El Fideo’ (The Noodle) in Spain for his slender frame, Di Maria is in his fourth season in Paris and recently extended his contract to 2021.
He has scored or created more than 70 goals in Ligue 1 for PSG, although he was signed chiefly to win big Champions League games and has been unable to prevent his side being knocked out in the last 16 in each of the last two seasons.
Nevertheless, if Di Maria’s days in Paris seemed numbered after Neymar and Mbappe signed in mega-bucks deals at the start of last season, he ended up being one of his team’s most consistent performers in the last campaign.
Since then, the appointment of Thomas Tuchel has coach has only helped a player who can perform in central midfield as well as on the wing. And if Tuchel’s side are to overcome their injury problems and come away from Old Trafford in a strong position before next month’s second leg in Paris, they will need Di Maria to show the United fans what they are missing.
“He was one of my favourite players when I used to watch him on television,” Tuchel said at the start of this season after making it clear that Di Maria was just as important to him as the ‘MCN’ front three of Mbappe, Neymar and Edinson Cavani.
“He is a gift for me. Everything is very easy with him because he is a top professional. He has extraordinary quality and works so hard for the team.”
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