Manchester United vs PSG: rise, relegation and rise of Angel Di Maria
It would not be in Angel Di Maria's character to say this publicly, but when he returns to Old Trafford this week, the Paris Saint-Germain striker is desperate to ask some of the current Manchester United personalities who personally challenged this character, prove a point.
Much of it comes from an explosive day in the locker room, where many players eventually became fed up with the Argentine and club officials decided it was time to sell. After another disappointingly anonymous presentation, Wayne Rooney voiced Di Maria's earnest face. A real argument broke out. Strong words were used.
Some of his former teammates use even stronger words about Di Maria. "Talented, but a complete Fanny" is a strikingly consistent description. Others only said he did not "give 100%".
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The vast majority at Old Trafford would agree that the $ 60 million contract was one of the biggest flops in club history, a symbolic, expensive failure that perfectly reflected post-Ferguson era dysfunction.
However, many of PSG would strongly deny these perceptions of the popular Di Maria. Far from a weak character, they would argue that it only takes the right attitude to produce real strength. After all, this is a player who had the great gaming mentality of being a man of the game in a Champions League final in 2014. This is the attacker who is so effective that his Argentine teammates consider him to be the nation's most important nation for a long time player after Leo Messi – who loves Di Maria.
The 30-year-old belongs to a distinctive group he has played with Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar, but he has outperformed each and every one of them. Far from the flop he played at United, Di Maria has shown a real determination to recover from this spell and actually prove one of PSG's most ingenious games. He has emerged with 21 goals in 45 games from the most productive season of his career in 2017 and 1818.
He returns to Old Trafford in the best shape and is even more important when he has injured Neymar and Edinson Cavani. Di Maria is at least prepared to pay his former club in another way and to show them the big number seven of a minority in Old Trafford, who still complains that they were never seen.
Some of United would say unequivocally that besides the injuries suffered by two of PSG's biggest stars, only the pressure on Di Maria to play in this famous stadium is increased. A challenge that some teammates felt was that he could never "hack" from the off. It will make his performance on Tuesday all the more compelling
The context of his return is certainly more complex than his reputation with United. Part of that is that Di Maria herself is a more complex footballer than most. He certainly has more to do with his game than most other players and is more introspective. This is a person who was so aware of the fierce print criticism in Argentina that she took the proactive step of consulting a psychologist. His typically confessional Players Tribune article about missing the 2014 World Cup final includes notable terms such as "hopelessness," "I could not control anything," and "This is the business of football that people do not always see."
The impression is of a player who can feel victimized by circumstances. Those who say he needs the right attitude are correct.
However, some of the problems with United were probably due to the fact that everything went too well for Real. Madrid. Ironically, Di Maria has had such problems with Louis van Gaal, as one of the best proverbs of his career was under the direct successor of the Dutch coach at Old Trafford. Jose Mourinho had made a strong commitment to signing in 2010 when he arrived in Madrid.
Di Maria, who was a star winger on the level of Paulo Futre and Luis Figo from his time at Benfica, not only earned entry to the Bernabeu, but also a prominent place in the Jorge Mendes Empire.
He was the perfect Mourinho player in almost every way. First of all, he was a talented attacker, versatile enough to play in many positions, including in defensive midfield, and hardworking enough to "run all day." At that time he was one of the increasingly rare players in Madrid, who were almost completely subjugated to the Mourinho regime. Teammates saw him as a docile teacher's pet, as the disagreement with the manager in 2012 came close to a team uprising. One story says that Di Maria complained that he was warned that Mourinho would criticize him publicly to set a tactical example.
In any case, he was not meek in the field.
His energy made sure he was an important tactical link in a lightning-fast counterattack team. This made him particularly important for Argentina when he played for three consecutive finals from 2014 to 2016. Di Maria provided a significant "rhythm change" and was not only versatile. The coaches wondered how he could play "short or long", "go inside or out" or play "together or individually". He was also a very selfless player with a goal-nose. A highlight was the brisk Messi-supported strike against Switzerland in the last World Cup 2014, when Di Maria suffered a wave after the Champions League final win over Atletico Madrid.
A real Nadir followed abruptly. Missing the World Cup final itself was traumatic enough, but there was also one of the factors involved. Di Maria has announced that he has already suffered injuries during the tournament and received a letter from Madrid in the run up to the finals requesting that he not play because they wanted to sell him to get James Rodriguez , Di Maria's connection to the Mourinho regime had meanwhile worked against him. Florentino Perez wanted something eye-catching and new. Fortunately for Madrid also United. That's what the signing of Di Maria would mean for a club that now has to make waves in the marketplace.
Unfortunately for Di Maria he really did not want to go to Old Trafford, but literally there were no other options. The Argentine was also an example of the gilded cage in which footballers can live, with their success effectively limiting the possibilities. No one else could afford to buy Di Maria, even if he was ready to accept a pay cut.
He just never wanted to be with United, but he really had no choice and never settled in a city.
That could have been found out if the bigger problem had not been. Van Gaal
Di Maria "hated" the Dutch coach. Here, the versatility and talent of the player almost affected him, and another, albeit short, rise only led to another low point. Di Maria scored this great chip against Leicester City, but the chance defeat suffered by United 5: 3 made Van Gaal realize that the team was way too open. The shackles started, and Di Maria was pushed all over the field. Van Gaal would not allow the runs and publications that really made the game of Argentina. The two men just did not fit together, either what the manager wanted from the player on the court or what the player needed from the manager.
At the Copa America 2015 in Chile, Argentina's technical staff were shocked that Di Maria had apparently lost his "rhythm" and blamed Van Gaal. They felt the United boss "ruined" the player. Di Maria really did not enjoy any of his United experiences. He was not popular in the locker room, and many thought he was grumpy and not good for the team. A key player said he just could not handle what it meant to play for United.
What is probably closer to the truth is that an already sensitive character could not handle the situation he was in right now. All this became a head due to the burglary suffered by Di Maria, which made him "desperate to go".
PSG, which had been restricted by Financial Fair Play last year, finally took its step. And at a lower price.
They found a player at a low tide, but one was personally happier. The city's surroundings and the South American culture of the club suited him perfectly. The relative ease of the French league for PSG also helped, but the fact that Di Maria was doing better also expressed his determination. Unlike United, he was now ready for challenges – like Neymar's arrival. The expectation was that Di Maria would be squeezed out and PSG was ready to sell. Instead, he stopped and knelt down. His willingness to compete in midfield eventually made sure he was never there, and Neymar's presence began to suit him. The positional freedom the Brazilian enjoys has also left room for Di Maria to hit and hit so many targets.
At that time, Neymar was injured at that time last year, and Di Maria was at times PSG's top scorer. That's especially relevant for the last 16 of this season, as well as his mood.
Di Maria is just a player who feels himself and whose personality has become a real plus for his club. He never complains in a team that has so many egos, and is a leading presence for young players like Juan Bernat and Leandro Paredes. The word is, he brings "PSG a different profile" and a lot of energy
In other words, everything is missing from his time at United. On the other hand, he also has everything he missed at United.
An outsider from Old Trafford has become one of PSG's key players.
It has made a big difference, but it will really show if Di Maria now proves the difference in this relationship.
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