Di Maria joins Man United in robes of saviour

26 August 2014 06:31

On top of a British-record transfer fee, Manchester United's new signing Angel di Maria must also contend with expectations that he will revitalise one of the world's greatest sporting institutions.

United had already spent around £72 million ($119 million, 90 million euros) during the close season on Luke Shaw, Ander Herrera and Marcos Rojo, but Di Maria's arrival from Real Madrid for £59.7 million saddles him with very different pressures.

As the man of the match from last season's Champions League final and a player who made the 10-man shortlist for the Golden Ball at the World Cup, the 26-year-old Argentina international arrives at his absolute peak.

And with United in danger of being cut adrift in the Premier League after a seventh-place finish last season and a poor start to the new campaign, he will be expected to sprinkle stardust over Old Trafford from the start.

It is only Real Madrid's insatiable thirst for superstar signings that has obliged Di Maria to leave the Spanish capital and in acquiring his services, United have demonstrated that their absence from European competition need not prove a deterrent for the world's biggest players.

For the club's fans, it is a transfer that has been a long time coming.

Not since Rio Ferdinand joined from Leeds United in 2002 for a fee of £29.1 million have United broken the British transfer record.

Not since 2004, and the arrival of Wayne Rooney, have they signed a player coveted by all of Europe.

Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone, whose side had no answer to Di Maria in the Champions League final, recently described the former Benfica star as Madrid's "best player" -- ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.

But while his talent is not in doubt, where he will play under United's new manager Louis van Gaal is unclear.

- 'Fits the bill' -

The Dutchman has introduced an innovative 3-4-1-2 formation since taking up his role in July, but there is no obvious role for Di Maria in the system.

His attacking instincts would have to be curbed at left wing-back and in any case, United did not lavish £29 million on Shaw in order to leave the England teenager on the bench.

Di Maria can operate in the centre of the pitch, but if van Gaal is determined to use Juan Mata as a number 10, it would leave him with only one berth in the team for an orthodox central midfielder.

With Rooney and Robin van Persie also apparently guaranteed to start, van Gaal may have to consider changing tack if he is to give all of his attacking stars the best conditions in which to work.

A stick-thin, jug-eared figure who rarely touches the ball with his right foot, Rosario-born Di Maria is a daring and incisive dribbler blessed with electric pace and extraordinary stamina.

While he is not especially prolific, having never scored more than seven league goals in his seven seasons in Europe, he topped the La Liga assists chart in 2013-14 with 17 decisive passes.

He will address United's pressing need for a driving force in midfield, and although he is better suited to playing on the wing or on the left of a midfield three, former club captain Gary Neville is convinced he will succeed.

"What the club has been built on for the last 10 to 15 years is being able to get from box to box quickly, being able to spring on teams, having people that can dribble and are quick in the final third," said the former defender, who is now a television analyst.

"Last year the signings didn't fit the bill for me in terms of what United are and the philosophy. This fits the bill if they can get Di Maria."

Source: AFP