Thursday 14 November 2019

£825,000 per match and £6.6m per goal... Man United counting the cost of Angel Di Maria deal

United left counting the cost of rushed deal for winger who never felt truly at home at Old Trafford

Angel Di Maria is expected to complete his move to PSG today
Angel Di Maria is expected to complete his move to PSG today

Mark Ogden

There was a certain irony in Angel Di Maria's decision not to board a flight from Buenos Aires to San Francisco to join the Manchester United squad in the United States 10 days ago.

As one member of the touring party remarked, it was the first time the Argentinian winger had not been a passenger for months.

A harsh assessment, perhaps, of British football's £59.7m record signing but, when Di Maria finally completes his £44.3m move from United to Paris Saint-Germain, there will be few arguing the case for his defence at Old Trafford, either inside or outside the dressing room.

Twelve months after arriving and speaking of his pride at being handed the No 7 shirt once worn by Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo, the only numbers that illustrate the 27-year-old's disastrous spell at the United are more in keeping with the Greek debt crisis than glorious moments on the pitch.

With his fee and wages totalling £70.7m, PSG's surprisingly large payment for the former Real Madrid player still leaves Di Maria's total cost to United at £26.4m.

His four goals came at a cost of £6.6m each, with 32 first-team appearances breaking down at £825,000 per game.


The amortisation of Di Maria's contract and devaluation of the Euro since last August, which will play in United's favour when making the outstanding payment on his fee to Real, will soften the financial blow for the accountants but, as a football investment, there is no hiding place for the club, player or manager Louis van Gaal.

A signing that happened quickly, without the usual detailed assessment of the player's suitability for English football or his readiness to adapt to living in a non-Latin environment, now looks like a deal that was rushed because the headline-grabbing stardust obscured the bigger picture.

But where, and how, did it all go wrong for a player who arrived having produced a man-of-the-match performance for Real in the Champions League final just three months earlier?

Di Maria's farewell letter to the Real supporters, within 48 hours of his arrival at United, in which he insisted that he did not want to leave the club, hinted at a player looking back with regret rather than forward with anticipation.

Scoring three goals in his first four games suggested he had made an instant adjustment to life in Manchester. It proved a false dawn.

The end began as early as late November, when a hamstring injury, suffered just 14 minutes into a home game against Hull, triggered the downward spiral that ultimately culminated in his transfer.

Di Maria's fitness and confidence then appeared fragile, with Van Gaal's tinkering stretching to the deployment of his flying winger as a centre-forward, which failed.

More injuries followed before the burglary at Di Maria's Cheshire mansion in January, which unnerved and unsettled the player and his family to the extent that his wife sought a quick return to Madrid.

United offered the family more visible security and they moved to a city centre apartment.

Still, a cold and miserable winter gnawed away at his wife at the same time as the player's relationship with Van Gaal deteriorated - an issue exacerbated by the Dutchman's blunt assessment of his record signing.

"The players have had to adapt to the philosophy and Di Maria has to do that," Van Gaal said.

"It's important that he wants to do that in his head. When you are open for coaching, then you can change."

There was no Alex Ferguson-style protection, no public show of support, and Van Gaal's concerns over Di Maria's willingness to embrace his methods were amplified by the player's limited enthusiasm to learn English.

The Argentinian's team-mates also noted his preference to isolate himself with compatriot Marcos Rojo rather than throw himself into integrating with a multi-national squad.

The general sense of Di Maria not wanting to be at the club was shared by many at Old Trafford.

His discomfort was borne out on the pitch, with a red card for his uncharacteristic man-handling of referee Michael Oliver during an FA Cup defeat against Arsenal highlighting his frustrations and the child-like catching of the ball while it was in play at Anfield betraying the player's bewilderment and anxiety.

When he limped out of the final game of the season at Hull clutching his hamstring after just 23 minutes, which was 10 weeks after his most recent start, Di Maria resembled a schoolboy who had enough of being kicked by the bigger players on the opposite side.

Van Gaal dismissed the injury as "minor" but, by that stage, Di Maria's mind had been made up, with discreet enquiries from Manchester City being returned with information that Madrid or Paris, rather than Manchester, would be his next place of work.

As the United story comes to a close, it has not ended well for any of those involved.

Di Maria's reputation has taken a battering - as has Van Gaal's in terms of handling star players - but it is United who are the biggest losers.

Meanwhile, Di Maria arrived in Doha late on Sunday night for his medical with PSG. If there are no hiccups, he is expected to complete his transfer this morning.

Brazilian right-back Rafael is also on his way out of Old Trafford after agreeing a £2.5m move to Lyon.

Rafael joined United along with his twin brother Fabio from Fluminense in 2008 and went on to establish himself as a first-team regular under Alex Ferguson and David Moyes, but he started only six Premier League games in the 2014-'15 season, the last of which came on October 26 against Chelsea.

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