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Record signing Angel di Maria ready to return Manchester United's swagger

Date

Football columnist, The London Telegraph

View more articles from Henry Winter

Bringing fresh hope: Angel di Maria.

Bringing fresh hope: Angel di Maria. Photo: AFP

Acquiring the man of the match from the most recent Champions League final can hardly be construed a panic purchase. No desperation can be found in wanting, hunting and successfully landing a versatile international of the pace, invention and energy of Angel di Maria.

Just because Manchester United also need strengthening elsewhere, notably in the heart of midfield and defence, does not mean the Angel of the North-west is a luxury signing. United have bought a formidable talent. Many Real Madrid supporters mourn his departure.

Events of the evening of May 24 when Real defeated Atletico Madrid in Lisbon highlighted how Di Maria can deliver on the grand stages, how he possesses the resilience to keep running at opponents who chopped him down, pulled him back and hacked him down again. Atletico ganged up on Di Maria, realising that he was the main threat with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale initially subdued. Di Maria was poleaxed by Juanfran, caught late by Raul Garcia, was hounded by Thiago and had his shirt tugged by Miranda to stop him escaping.

He did not stop attacking, carrying on playing his one-twos with first Fabio Coentrao and then Marcelo, raiding down the left, putting in 23 crosses during two hours of football. British eyes focused on Bale of Wales for what proved the winning goal but it was Di Maria's run after 110 minutes, that "zig-zag" celebrated by Xabi Alonso, that made it. Cutting in from the wing, Di Maria left three Atletico players trailing. Even though Thibaut Courtois saved, the ball looped up for Bale. All the British headlines were about Bale's part in the Decima but his goal celebration said it all, embracing Di Maria and thanking him.

So it is a critique deserving of derision to suggest Di Maria might find English football too bruising or stamina-sapping; he started out with Rosario Central in the Argentine league, hardly the most genteel of environments. It is a claim worthy of instant mockery that Di Maria might find the Premier League too quick; United are crying out for more pace and Di Maria provides that. Nobody would dare suggest that Di Maria is not team-minded; 22 assists for Real last season confirm his selflessness.

Panic purchase? United's manager, Louis van Gaal, has never seemed the type to rush blindly into situations; he is a deep-thinking citizen of a cerebral footballing nation with a wealth of experience who may be searching for United's Arjen Robben, a fast-moving destroyer of defences. The word around Van Gaal was that he wanted "four or five high-class players" and Di Maria certainly fits that bill.

The angular Argentine shaped the result of a Champions League final, settled an Olympic final and scored to take his country into a World Cup quarter-final. His absence from the Maracana climax with a thigh strain was lamented by all his compatriots invading Rio de Janeiro. Di Maria still made the 10-man Golden Ball short-list for player of the World Cup. For someone considered over-priced, Di Maria has quite a rich resume.

He is also a dedicated professional, still driven by the memory of difficult early days, and the knowledge of his father working in a coal-yard after injury blighted his dream of a career with River Plate. He may even have a point to prove to Real. Panic purchase? Arguably, it is Di Maria taking the risk, moving to a club with no Champions League football.

The general consensus is that United paid too much with a fee of £59.7 million. Only time will tell; if Di Maria settles quickly, and helps lift United into the Champions League positions, he will justified the outlay in one season, let alone via the lucrative merchandising opportunities that will be exploited by United in their usual brisk fashion. United's sponsors will love this signing.

Leaving aside the financial benefits, the recruiting of such a well-known talent should also have an uplifting psychological impact.

All those United fans, tuning in to watch Di Maria illuminate Lisbon, will be thrilled he will now be entertaining them. United have lost their fear factor since Sir Alex Ferguson left; Di Maria could help them on the journey to regaining that swagger. His presence may persuade others to sign. The dressing room will be buzzing with the breaking news.

The real question about Di Maria should not be why, but where. He can fill a range of tactical roles. He can play wing-back but it seems a waste of his final-third prowess. Di Maria's arrival may see United go back to their roots, unleashing wingers again, and Hallelujah to that. Van Gaal has indicated that his use of 3-5-2 was partly because he questioned the quality of wingers at United with also the subtext that he was waiting for Kevin Strootman to become available, giving United the central powerhouse they so urgently require. The history of the Premier League is traditionally about back-fours, partly because wing-backs can get over-run.

Di Maria offers assorted options, scoring goals through the middle at Benfica as well as when arrowing down the inside-left channel. Yet the lesson of Lisbon in May is that Di Maria shines more on the left.

Comparisons are invidious, and Ryan Giggs was unique, but some of Di Maria's left-sided surges, tricking his way with touch and acceleration around full-backs, echo Giggs.

Wherever Van Gaal plays him, it could mean problems for Juan Mata. If Van Gaal reverted to a 4-3-3/4-2-1-3, with Wayne Rooney playing off Robin van Persie and Di Maria and Adnan Januzaj wide, United would have an attack of goals, creativity and pace.

We should celebrate Di Maria's signing. He adds some welcome additional class to the Premier League, reversing the talent drain to La Liga. It should be a measure of pride that the player who lit up the Champions League is now here but one gutsy, virtuoso display does not make a player a guaranteed success in his next move and certain concerns must be acknowledged.

Di Maria needs to learn English quickly and find the right house for him, his wife, and young daughter ASAP. Manchester is far from Madrid in many ways, and degrees, but there will be familiar faces at United and City to mix with off the field. On it, Di Maria heavily favours his left foot, so much so that he regularly engages in the "Rabona" with left foot wrapped around right to deliver the ball. Premier League defenders will show him on to his right.

Warning: Atletico tried that and Di Maria still took them apart.

The Telegraph, London

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