It is just, it appears, a question of details now. Angel Di Maria is widely believed to be on his way from Manchester United to Paris Saint-Germain, a year after the latter club were unable to sign him due to financial fair play restrictions, per Darren Lewis of the Mirror.
Even if there is haggling to be done over the precise amount of the transfer fee, it is likely that everyone will exit this saga with a level of happiness. United will get a large chunk of their money back and may well get Barcelona’s Pedro as a far more Louis van Gaal-friendly replacement—again, as per the above link—while Laurent Blanc and company stand to welcome a player they believe will transform their prospects, particularly in Europe.
Nevertheless, there will be a sense of deep dissatisfaction in some quarters if Di Maria does go. This was a signing that promised so much for United. It was not just the £59.7 million British record fee that brought him to Old Trafford which fostered this anticipation.
This was a player who, in the first half of the calendar year of 2014 in particular, bent the biggest games to his will. He was instrumental in Real Madrid’s run-in to the 2013-14 campaign, playing a major role in the Copa del Rey final win over Barcelona and turning the Champions League final against a typically stubborn Atletico Madrid.
After that, he went on to be a key figurehead for Argentina at the World Cup. Even in games in which he was below his best overall, he found a way to make the crucial contribution at the perfect moment, most notably with the sublime finish to break Switzerland’s hearts in the last 16.
There are many reasons why Di Maria has not come to assume quite the same decisiveness for United, even if he has not been anywhere near as bad as some claim (and, indeed, as the popular version of history may well record). Blame, ultimately, must be shared out among all parties.
Let’s start with Van Gaal. He is a man always at pains to show that he runs a meritocracy—as per the famous “if a player cost £95 million or £5,000 it’s not any different for me” comments referring to Radamel Falcao from January, per the Mirror—but that’s not entirely true.
Under Van Gaal, expensive signings always have more to prove than their colleagues. Di Maria’s numbers were entirely respectable for a first season adapting to a new league and an alien culture, in a team trying to find stability—10 assists in 20 Premier League starts, as per WhoScored.com. As WhoScored also emphasises in its playing positions diagram, he was constantly shifted between posts, and given little opportunity to settle into a bespoke role fitting of someone you aim to build a team around.
Having achieved a place in the top four Van Gaal is still in credit, but only just. The first six months of United’s season in his second season are crucial, and signs of progress will have to be made.
Fans will also expect increasingly expansive football, which will arguably be harder without Di Maria in the lineup. The club themselves have a part in this too. They sanctioned the purchase at such a high price in the first place too, and look like allowing Di Maria to be jettisoned at a (hopefully for United) fairly small loss.
Last but not least, Di Maria has his own share of the responsibility. Perhaps post-World Cup fatigue needs to be factored in as well as the aforementioned on and off-pitch factors, but his form dropped off alarmingly after a promising start. Many have argued that he showed little fight to regain his place in the United side after losing it.
As mentioned at the start, there is every reason to believe that Di Maria will flourish in Paris. Yet he, United and Van Gaal should all regret the chance of a highly productive relationship that between them, they have allowed to slip through their fingers.