Manchester United are reportedly ready to open talks with Real Madrid over the transfer of Angel Di Maria, whose future with the European champions looks to be dead after he failed to appear in Los Blancos' UEFA Super Cup win against Sevilla.
Di Maria was a key player under Carlo Ancelotti last year, but failed to make it off the bench during the side's simple 2-0 win in Cardiff. The envious eyes of United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward are said to have been watching, noted by Simon Jones of the Daily Mail:
Executive vice chairman Ed Woodward was understood to be in Cardiff for the UEFA Super Cup between Real Madrid and Sevilla ahead of talks with Madrid for the Argentina international Di Maria, considered by United manager (Louis) Van Gaal as one of the best wingers in the world.
Dermot Corrigan of ESPN FC also hints that Ancelotti's use of Marcelo, Isco and Asier Illarramendi from the bench indicates the Italian has given up hope of keeping the 26-year-old:
Those last Madrid subs could be Ancelotti admitting his hope of keeping hold of Di Maria is over.— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) August 12, 2014
The Argentinian winger's future continues to raise headlines after Paris Saint-Germain declared they can't afford his services, reported by The Independent. This leaves United in an excellent position if the player is deemed suitable for Louis Van Gaal's revolution, which is yet to truly ignite when it comes to transfer business.
Which player do Manchester United need most?
Ander Herrera proved once again what a smart investment he is during Tuesday's pre-season win over Valencia, while Luke Shaw has struggled with fitness problems since arriving.
Van Gaal needs a marquee name or two to really spark United's revival and to make Premier League competitors take notice. Di Maria's versatility—he can play on either flank, behind the striker or in a central midfield role—makes him a prime candidate.
The new United boss has used a 3-5-2 formation since taking over. He is trying to ensure the current squad plays to the best of its ability, but whether this holds up over a season's competitive play remains to be seen.
Valencia highlighted weaknesses in United's three-man defence, as pacey counterattacks pushed the Red Devils onto the back foot. Van Gaal needs players such as Di Maria to be able to employ another strategy. He indicated as much prior to the Valencia game, reported by Sky Sports:
[...] we don't have wingers of the highest level, like (Cristiano) Ronaldo or Di Maria or somebody like that. So, I have to play in another way – and you have seen that already. I only buy when I think we need to buy – in the position that is necessary.
It's interesting to see Van Gaal name check Di Maria publicly, as he outright states this is the type of player he needs to be able to switch to 4-3-3, 4-4-2 or something similar. Few would be surprised if Woodward now managed to tie up a deal for Di Maria, whose energetic nature would bring real zest to United's play.
Former Red Devils right-back Gary Neville believes plenty of investment is needed before United can be considered title challengers, per Sky Sports and via Kevin Palmer of the Sunday World:
Gary Neville: “Unless two or three players come in I don’t think it’s realistic that Van Gaal can win the league this year." #MUFC— Kevin Palmer (@kpsundayworld) August 12, 2014
Defenders Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind are linked with a move to Old Trafford, reported by Jamie Anderson of the Express. Both would offer viable options at the back, as it's unlikely the team can go an entire season with Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Phil Jones working in the back three.
While it appears talk of landing Arturo Vidal has slowed, per Chilean newspaper La Tercera and via Metro, Di Maria's potential move seems to be gathering momentum. United fans will approach this with caution, but will be hoping Woodward can tie up a deal for one of the world's superstar players.
Although the gaps in midfield and defence will still need to be addressed, Di Maria's quality would provide the side with many more options than it currently possesses. He also offers a major upgrade over the likes of Antonio Valencia, Nani, and a resurgent Ashley Young.
Van Gaal's team have continued to make statements on the pitch during pre-season, with six wins out of six, but now the Dutchman must make similar waves in the transfer market. Di Maria is just the man to do this.