Louis Van Gaal Likens Angel Di Maria to Arjen Robben, Unsure over Burnley Debut

Nick AkermanFeatured ColumnistAugust 27, 2014

MADRID, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 30:  Angel Di Maria of Real Madrid CF controls the ball during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Real Valladolid CF at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on November 30, 2013 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Louis van Gaal has outlined Angel Di Maria's versatility as one of the reasons he opted to pay a British-record transfer fee for the Argentinian, likening the new Manchester United star's transfer to his decision to sign Arjen Robben for Bayern Munich in 2009.

Di Maria was confirmed as a Red Devils player on Tuesday and will set the team back £59.7 million, reported by United's official website. Van Gaal is a lover of players who can take responsibility in multiple roles, something the former Real Madrid man thrived on during his last season with the European champions.

Van Gaal believes Di Maria's signing is comparable to Robben's arrival at the Allianz Arena, per David McDonnell of the Mirror:

I have bought him because he can play inside and on the wing, and that is handy for a coach. When I was at Bayern Munich, on August 28 I also bought Arjen Robben, who could also play on the wing and inside. The process needs time and we shall see if, with Di Maria, we have to change the system or not.

Traditionally a winger, Di Maria has shown the usefulness of his versatility through hard work. He played a key role in central midfield for Carlo Ancelotti last season, where he was able to break forward with pace and energetically chase back. He can play on either flank, behind the striker or even up top if needed, but Van Gaal might be about to add another role to Di Maria's repertoire.

The Dutch manager continues to deploy a 3-5-2 formation that is leaving United short at the back. Di Maria could take the left wing-back's role, although this would likely limit his attacking output for the side. While Ashley Young, Nani and Reece James have attempted this position during the first three competitive games of the campaign, none have managed to impress in either half of the field.

United's centre-backs were dreadfully exposed during the embarrassing 4-0 Capital One Cup loss to MK Dons. Van Gaal needs defensive improvements before the transfer window ends on Sept. 1 or else the side's frailties at the back are going to continue overshadowing the attacking talent within the squad.

B/R UK's Rob Blanchette muses through the difficulties of fitting Di Maria in:

It is unclear whether Di Maria will start against Burnley on Saturday. Van Gaal suggests the player will be judged in training before the early kick-off at Turf Moor. "I spoke with him (Di Maria) at 10 a.m. in our hotel before we left for this game," said the manager, per McDonnell. "He said he was physically well and will train with us tomorrow, but I have to see if he can play against Burnley."

Christof Stache/Associated Press

Van Gaal will certainly hope Di Maria can mimic Robben's impact on the pitch.

The former Chelsea man is a key figure in the Bavarian side's current era of success and started to reach his full potential under Van Gaal. Robben learned how to take on proper responsibility when working with his countryman, a factor reinforced with his performances at the World Cup. He is no longer the defensive weak link in a top team.

Di Maria already has well-rounded qualities installed into his game. He is energetic, always willing to take control of possession and make things happen. While he isn't going to block up United's defensive lapses, this isn't what he has been bought for. He is one piece of a much larger project for Van Gaal, whose patience for his own philosophy needs to be echoed by the fans.