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United find their Angel

15 September 2014, 19:37

London - According to his father, Angel di Maria does not ask for a lot. This Valentine's Day baby is not after more money, nor more respect but simply a bit of love and affection from his paymasters.

At last, at Manchester United, he seems to have found a match with a club where his talents are sought after and where he can be truly, madly, deeply appreciated.

The standing ovation which Di Maria received from his new Old Trafford admirers after a thrilling man-of-the-match display in the Red Devil's crushing defeat of QPR on Sunday had a touch of nostalgia about it.

It felt as if the Theatre of Dreams had found a player with a bit of stardust in his boots which had been sorely missed in recent times, also a man worthy of inheriting the famous red number seven shirt previously donned by the likes of George Best, Eric Cantona and Cristiano Ronaldo.

More than that, you could sense on this breakthrough day for manager Louis Van Gaal the possibility that Di Maria, with all the abundant gifts that make him at nearly 60 million pounds ($97.4 million) the most expensive signing in English football, may have found a club where he could again become the king, not some undervalued courtier.

That's how Di Maria was made to feel at Real Madrid. In a team littered with galacticos, he was the star who, no-matter his contribution on the pitch could never quite capture the imagination of his club President Florentino Perez.

"Angel was never appreciated. It was like they didn't want him in the club and showed him no affection," said his dad Miguel.

"My son is tired of always fighting, demonstrating and showing everything."

He had a point. His son had been key to Madrid clinching La Decima last season, his numerous assists and electric displays, capped by his lung-bursting sprint down the left flank which led to Gareth Bale's key goal in that Champions League final, making him invaluable for coach Carlos Ancelotti.

Not for Perez, though, apparently. In came the World Cup flavours of the month, Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez, to feed the Real Madrid commercial juggernaut, leaving Di Maria to again question his future at the club.

Eventually he decided.

"Unfortunately, today I have to go but I want to make it clear that I never wished to leave," he wrote in an open letter to Madrid's fans, who, to be fair, like his team mates had never taken him for granted.

There was an irony here. If Di Maria had not suffered from injury in a World Cup quarter-final, it could be argued that his much needed star quality might have been enough to assist Argentina in clinching the trophy.

Also read: Manchester United crush QPR


If so, Perez would have had a World Cup-winning galactico on his books and he would have been forced to retain him. Instead, he was happy to offload someone who was by now apparently demanding financial parity with more lauded team-mates. Di Maria's only real flaw, was that he wasn't as marketable as a Rodriguez or Ronaldo.

Yet even if the transfer fee was inflated, nothing so far, has suggested, as Madrid struggle to find early season form, to it being a decision that made any sense.

They already look as if they miss his dynamism. Real kick off their Champions League defence against Basel on Tuesday after a distinctly stuttering start to a campaign in which Ancelotti is no longer able to call upon a player who, like Ronaldo, was so invaluable their counter-attacking tactics.

Real's loss already looks United's gain. Di Maria may be missing out have lost the chance to play Champions League football for a season but there are compensations in going to a place where he can feel not just wanted, but needed.

This is a player who, for the last four years, has had to play second, sometimes third, fiddle for club and country despite being one of the very best in the business.

At Real, he was in the shadow of Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and company. For Argentina, another Rosario chum, a certain Lionel Messi, has eclipsed him.

At United, though, a vacancy for someone with a Cantona-esque ability to inspire and electrify awaits. Van Gaal knows it, even if the old schoolmaster in him still had the Dutchman ticking off Di Maria for a few stray passes.

"I see things we can improve," Van Gaal said. He can also presumably see a man who could act as his side's main galvanising force, United's new Angel of the North.

- Reuters


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