There’s always one, and this year it looks like Angel di Maria could be that man.
That man who, despite what he, his manager or his club say, is constantly linked with a January move to another team, league or continent.
In a World Cup year, this sort of talk supposedly carries more substance. Players like Di Maria, we are told, need to leave if they are to ensure their spots in Brazil next summer—although are Argentina really about to drop the 25-year-old?
Talk about Di Maria’s future throughout December has been relentless.
Chelsea plan to sign him as part of a swap deal involving Eden Hazard, according to the Daily Star, while The Mirror suggested that Manchester United were eying Di Maria to resurrect their faltering title defense.
Amid all this, of course, have come the denials.
“I am happy at Madrid, my head is in Madrid and I have never asked for a contract renewal.”
Even president Florentino Perez—the man often thought to carry an agenda in cases like this—has poured cold water on the suggestion that the club have received bids for Di Maria, via Sky Sports.
It all creates a distorted picture of the Madrid wide man's future, leaving only few who actually know what January may bring. However, the advice for Ancelotti and Los Blancos is clearer: Don’t let Di Maria leave.
Perhaps he isn’t part of his manager’s favourite XI, having fallen behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale in the pecking order, but it is fair to assume he is probably the club's 12th man in cricket terms.
In 105 games for Madrid in La Liga, he has contributed to 68 goals—scoring 20 and creating 48—and despite the talk of him not being first choice, he’s also had his fair share of games wearing the white shirt this season.
And more often than not, he’s continued to produce the goods when given a chance.
Fifteen starts have bore five goals and eight assists, totaling a direct involvement in 13 goals this season—nearly one for each appearance.
In Madrid’s most recent win against Valencia, which kept them from slipping further away from Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, Di Maria was the talisman. He scored a wonderful first and his brilliant free-kick created the second.
When Di Maria plays, Ancelotti knows that he has an attacking threat. On the left or the right, or through the middle as he’s done this season for club and country, he carries that rare ability to create something from nothing.
Bale and Ronaldo may be ahead of him in Ancelotti’s thoughts, but in modern football, where big squads are a necessity, Madrid would be foolish to let Di Maria slip through their fingers.
Stats taken from Transfermarkt and WhoScored.