Manchester United Star Di Maria's Journey from Coal Shed to Theatre of Dreams

Daniel Edwards@@DanEdwardsGoalFeatured ColumnistAugust 28, 2014

Real Madrid's Angel Di Maria, right, duels for the ball with Atletico Madrid's Juan Fran during a Spanish Super Cup soccer match at Santiago Bernabeu stadium  in Madrid, Spain, Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014 . (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
Daniel Ochoa de Olza/Associated Press

For a young boy growing up in the poverty of suburban Argentina, there are few ways to achieve a better life. But those with talent, intelligence and application can drag their way up from the most humble of surroundings, often with a football fused to their foot. Angel Di Maria proves that there is a way out from the precarious housing and dirt streets that sprawl from all of Argentina's urban metropolises. 

The former Real Madrid winger is now looking forward to a new beginning in Old Trafford. Manchester United decided to break the bank in order to bring in the former Albiceleste international. 

BBC Sport reports that the Red Devils smashed the British transfer record, paying out a massive £59.7 million to tempt Madrid into a sale. Despite regularly putting in man of the match turns with the Spanish giants, Di Maria found himself on the wrong side of the club's insistence on signing a constant array of new superstars. 

Now he has the challenge of a lifetime as he tries to bring the same energy, verve and, above all, exceptional hard work to the Theatre of Dreams and a team in desperate need of magic. 

Luckily, from a young age Angel Di Maria has understood only too well what real hard work means. 

Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

The winger grew up on the periphery of Argentina's second-largest city, Rosario, in one of dozens of humble suburbs that seem to stretch for miles further and further from the modern centre of town. It is here in Argentina—as in Buenos Aires and other large population centres—where the contradiction of life is seen.

Steel and glass office buildings and imported cars at the core give way to shanty towns, dirt roads that flood at the slightest hint of rain and the horse-drawn carts that plod along them, manned by informal garbage collectors who sift through refuse hoping to find a little cardboard to recycle and earn a few centavos. For Di Maria, as with so many of the Albiceleste's football legends over the years, this was his first home. 

In the humble La Ceramica neighbourhood to the south of Rosario, Miguel Di Maria paid the bills by running a tiny coal-making workshop in a shed adjacent to the family home. His son, as detailed by La Nacion, was so tiny that he left three-quarters of his bed unoccupied, but he still humped the heavy bags onto his shoulders to help his father and family. 

If there were any protests, they came from his mother. "Angel ended up covered from head to foot with coal, what a mess," Diana explained to AS, describing her despair at seeing the clean kitchen suddenly attacked by a line of sooty footprints. 

Fortunately for the football world, a doctor recommended that for the hyperactive boy, whose rampages threatened to bring the family home crashing down around them, the best treatment was to take up some sort of sporting activity. Karate was one option, but both Miguel and Diana preferred their son to participate in Argentina's national passion. It was an incredibly wise decision. 

Fideo got his first break in the Torito neighbourhood team, where he smashed 64 goals in one year. That kind of form soon got the attention of local giants Rosario Central, the club which captured the star's heart from an early age. Legend has it that the Canalla paid a princely sum of 40 footballs for the teenage talent, who continued to go to training by bicycle. 

"When Angel was nine or 10 years old, I would put my daughter in the bicycle's basket, and him behind, and I took them along pedalling up to the training pitch in Granadero Baigorria. It was 10 kilometres every day so he would not miss practice," Diana remembers, with pride, her son's beginnings in Central during an interview with Cabal. 

"Being born in La Perdriel was and will always be the best thing that ever happened to me." The tattoo that runs down Angel Di Maria's arm, referring to the street in which he grew up in La Ceramica, makes it clear, per El Hincha.

Everything Fideo had to learn about life—how every single moment was a fight and that losing was not an option—he learnt on the tough streets of southern Rosario. He carried on helping Miguel in the coal shed until the age of 17, when he made his debut with Central and took his first steps to unbelievable success. 

Just two years later, after less than 50 appearances in Argentine football, Benfica swooped to take him away from La Perdriel. The teenage Di Maria was still an unfinished product, raw and prone to waste the ball by taking the wrong option. But his apprenticeship was only just starting and now would continue thousands of miles away from Rosario in the Portuguese capital Lisbon. 

But there was one piece of unfinished business that the new United signing had to take care of before crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Immediately after signing a lucrative contract with Benfica, Di Maria had a call to make. It was to his father, Miguel: Now, he said, the coal shed could be closed