The Angel Di Maria Conundrum
Premier League 2014/15
With Real Madrid’s Angel Di Maria nearing a move to Manchester United, we question whether this is another square peg in a round hole.
Paul Scholes wasn’t renowned for his forthright views as a player, but since his retirement he’s not been shy about speaking his mind. The Manchester United legend stated during the week that his former club requires five world-class players to challenge again.
It’s clear that United’s most urgent needs are in defence and central midfield but, despite this, it seems that they are close to finalising a British transfer record deal for Real Madrid’s winger Angel di Maria.
The Argentine would surely fit into Scholes’ world-class bracket but is he what United really need? Rafa Benitez famously left Valencia over his lack of control in their transfer policy – “I asked for a table and they bought me a lampshade”, he moaned.
It seems United’s recent strategy is to buy a table when all they need is a lampshade.
The purchases of Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata, in particular, always felt like panic buys when other areas of the pitch were more urgently in need of strengthening. They could be about to make the same mistake again.
Louis van Gaal rightly proclaimed di Maria as one of the world’s best wingers recently, but the Argentinian seems like more of a sop to fans frustrated with their club’s protracted transfer dealings than the solution to a pertinent problem in the side. While United currently do not possess any world-class wingers, they don’t really need to – not if their new boss sticks to his much-hyped 3-5-2 system, despite abandoning it at half-time in their opening day defeat to Swansea City.
Van Gaal’s system will ostensibly rely on attacking defenders in the wing-back roles rather than defensive attackers. Di Maria is neither. He is a huge attacking threat, topping the assist tables in last season’s La Liga and finishing runner-up in Champions League assists but may not contribute enough defensively to fit into van Gaal’s system.
He was often deployed by Jose Mourinho in a defensive role at Madrid, and had no problem tracking back, but it stymied his undoubted offensive threat.
However, one of the reasons for the 3-5-2 in the first place was van Gaal’s recognition at the lack of world-class wingers at the club.
A potential capture of di Maria may force the Old Trafford boss into a re-think, just as Kevin Strootman’s injury forced the adoption of a new system with Holland at the recent World Cup. Van Gaal has enjoyed most of his success with a more traditional 4-3-3 system, which would suit di Maria down to the ground.
Nevertheless, reverting to this would almost certainly mean that either Wayne Rooney or Robin van Persie would miss out on a starting place.
Di Maria did play at times last season for Madrid in a more central position, mainly to accommodate Gareth Bale, but being played out of his preferred position is one of the reasons he wants to leave the Champions League holders in the first place.
Either way, splurging up to £75 million on a winger will not solve United’s most pressing requirements. It may contribute towards 20% of Scholes’ wish-list but would still leave gaping holes in central defence and central midfield. However, should he sign, it’s a problem van Gaal will be happy to grapple with.