When David Beckham was in his absolute pomp I remember Sir Alex Ferguson saying that he’d never sell him unless he could find and buy a better right-footed crosser from anywhere around Europe. The man Fergie was referring to at the time was at Real Madrid – Luis Figo. Figo often said it was a dream to play at Old Trafford but never realized that ‘sueño’.
Now I believe United have bought a left-footed version of the two men. I don’t believe Angel di Maria is inferior to Figo in any way, nor will I accept that the Argentinian’s crossing can’t compare to Beckham.
And talking of that Class of ’92, I’d argue that Di Maria echoes some things which will still have United fans crying into their pints of lager. Or their prawn sandwiches.
Hungry like the wolf …
One of the things, beyond their talent and football intelligence, which linked Scholes, Giggs, Nicky Butt, Beckham and the Neville brothers was that this was ‘their’ club. They fought like hungry wolves for every ball, every goal, every win. For their places, for the fans, for the trophies. They fought.
Setting aside the Keanes and Schmeichels (and their ilk) of this world it’s hard to go out and purchase someone whose attitude to daily intensity, defeat and victory matches that level because, by definition, its not ‘their’ club.
Now, growing up in Rosario, Argentina, age contemporary and not many kilometres away from his fellow Rosarian Lionel Messi, it’s not the case that di Maria dreamed of the Stretford End or subscribed to fanzine United We Stand.
Yet one thing which links him to that Class of ’92 is that how hard he works, how much winning means to him, what he’s willing to sacrifice and how much he’s willing to invest in making others around him better players – winners.
Gradually, the Old Trafford faithful (and United’s world-wide audience) will come to recognize that, in spirit and talent on the ball, he’s not just class – he’s ‘Class of ’92’ calibre.
Had this kid been born in Preston, Knutsford or Manchester Deansgate, instead of Rosario – over the last 30 years he’d have been incorporated into the United scouting and youth development system and Sir Alex would have cherished him.
Precious moments …
Di Maria and his cost has been something which has over-exercised many minds and mouths over the last few days. United have the money. United have a quality deficit. United need to catch up. Di Maria is a catch. End of.
Had he played for Fergie he’d have been adored by the demanding Scot. Of working class stock (his dad worked in a coal-yard), never a problem in training, blessed with a ‘every minute of every game is precious’ spirit, immensely gifted in how he uses the ball and prepared to work hard to get the thing back when it’s lost – these are all Fergie box-tickers.
After dragging Madrid back into a Champions League final they were about to lose in May di Maria admitted:
I sank to my knees in gratitude, emotion and tiredness. I got through the 120 minutes via sheer will-power and adrenaline. Every time I put on a jersey I give it everything I’ve got. No matter what people say, I never give 95 or 99 per cent. It’s always 100 per cent If you consistently do that then in the end you’ll reap the rewards.
Who actually handed him his MOTM trophy? Yes, Fergie. It’s fate.
Moreover what IS United about? Cash reserves, billion-pound sponsorship deals, American owners, executive boxes, debt schedules?
Or passion: sonic booms of excited, orgasmic roars when a goal soars in or a chance zips past; committment; pride; noise; flair; energy and the ‘he who dares, wins’ spirit?
Tell me? Which of the two sentences do you want to apply to your club?
Errol Flynn football or Mickey Finn football?
Baby, please don’t go …
Di Maria pertains to the spirit of the modern Manchester United from Busby to Van Gaal via you know who.
It’s di Maria you’ll want to return to watch. It’s he who’ll persuade you to stick with the transition patiently. He who’ll tip the balance over whether a match ticket or your season book is worth the outlay. Whether the trip to MK Dons in the Capital One Cup on a grimy Tuesday night is one to miss or unmissable.
Let’s be clear. None of the Madrid players wanted him to leave. Carlo Ancelotti didn’t want him to leave. The Argentinian was Man of the Match in that Champions League final, he was a key figure in Argentina reaching the World Cup final and he tends to ‘turn up’ when the pressure is high.
Go and watch his cross for Cristiano Ronaldo to head the winner in the 2011 Copa del Rey final against Barcelona. It’s poetry. It’s utterly beautiful. His goal in the Copa del Rey final win (2-1 against Barcelona again] last season (above); his glorious, nonchalant winner lofted over the Nigerian keeper in the Beijing Olympic Final. Then there’s his 49 assists and 36 goals since joining Madrid in 2010.
Big skills, big game temperament.
Obviously, the world of football isn’t all ambrosia, there are thwarted ambitions too.
So You Are A Star …
Di Maria is an Argentinian footballer, used to life in Iberia who doesn’t have great English playing for a Dutch coach whose Spanish can be rusty. He’s joining an ailing UK giant in a league which no foreigner fails to be surprised at when they encounter its fury and its fireworks. It’s a test.
More, di Maria is a star, superbly remunerated now and will draw massive attention wherever he goes. These are usually concepts which are anathema to van Gaal. It’s imperative that the two men hit it off. Promptly.
What will help is what one of Van Gaal’s former assistants taught the player known as the ‘noodle’ because of his pipe-cleaner frame.
During his time at Madrid, Mourinho taught me that I wasn’t a ‘pure’ forward. That I couldn’t rest every time the strikers lost the ball. He taught me to give more to the team throughout the game and the di Maria of today compared to how I began playing bears no resemblance tactically or technically.
Street fighting man …
To give the Dutch manager a clue how to handle this guy here’s di Maria on Ancelotti: “When things got tough he didn’t say very much and just made sure that I was in the starting line-ups, even when it felt like everyone else was criticising me.
That trust gave me the confidence to play my part for the team. He wanted me to attack, defend, to run and keep on running. He wanted me to make sacrifices.
Di Maria adds: “A footballer’s career is so short. I treat every match as if I was playing my mates in the street. I adore winning. I feel inferior to nobody and my attitude now is that whenever we don’t have the ball I want to contribute to winning it back as quickly as possible, to press the life out of our opponents. I want the ball.”
And when he begins to be given it by his United team mates everyone who’s still to learn about this youth World Champion, Olympic Gold medallist and Champions League winner will see exactly why.
United may need more quality before the market ends. But in this position they could barely have done better.
- Is di Maria the man to ignite Manchester United’s title charge? Shoot over to the latest odds on desktop | mobile