Once, at a particularly unpleasant car boot sale, a man who looked like a chewed prawn asked me the price of a rather natty (though, admittedly, odd-smelling) pair of Paul Smith loafers. When I replied that he could wrap his purulent feet in such a fine example of modern British shoemaking for a mere £10, he blithely countered with an offer closer to 90p in coppers. Needleless to say, I murdered him with a hatchet.
Given my experience I feel an unlikely degree of sympathy with Louis van Gaal right now. At the time of writing, if tabloid murmurs are to be believed, Paris Saint-Germain have tipped their own pile of Euro pennies (to the tune of £29 ish- million) onto the Manchester United manager’s desk in exchange for Angel Di Maria. Van Gaal, a man not renowned for tempering his emotions, may well be in Paris right now, smearing his greasy trouser windmill repeatedly back and forth across the Mona Lisa.
After all, Di Maria cost him roughly double that figure just 12 months ago – even the damned French can’t think that’s an ok thing to do. Except, on the balance of things, it probably seems about right.
For United, Di Maria has, in technical terms, been gash. Having arrived from Real Madrid for a British record fee, he has quickly joined the ranks of bafflingly disappointing Premier League mega-transfers. And this is a player whose departure from Real Madrid made Cristiano Ronaldo so furious he went off and did a thousand angry sit-ups.
But the Di Maria that drove Real onto their long-sought tenth Champions League victory (with a man of the match performance in the final no less) is very different from the one who has been out-scored at Old Trafford by Chris Smalling.
What Did Di Do?
Search for a truly magnificent Di Maria moment from last season and all I can manage is an excellent performance against Everton (and even then he only created 4 chances despite thrashing his way through 19 crosses).
Most people’s outstanding memory will probably be when he got all grabby with the ref in an FA Cup quarter final against Arsenal. Van Gaal was not, as he often isn’t, thrilled and Di Maria didn’t start another game until the final day of the season.
Now there is a distinct air of freshly baked baguettes and stripy jumpers hanging over the Argentinean’s future. And even if Van Gaal is violently tea-bagging PSG’s horribly low first bid as we speak, it seems unlikely that Di Maria will get another chance to show the Premier League he isn’t just a Waitrose Wilfried Zaha.
The arrival of Memphis Depay, all blurry legs and scary tattoos, represents everything Di Maria couldn’t deliver for United. Depay is openly delighted to be at Manchester United, seeing it as an opportunity to endear himself to one of the world’s largest sporting fan bases. Di Maria always seemed more like a man who had accidentally moved his attractive young wife within leering distance of Ryan Giggs.
Top of the Flops
Even compared to other unexpected Premier League flops, Di Maria’s miserable crumble is probably the hardest to swallow. Andriy Shevchenko, for example, arrived at Chelsea as a player Jose Mourinho most certainly had not asked for. Juan Veron bowled up to Manchester United at a time when Premier League midfields were more inclined towards running, shouting and slide tackles, than patiently strumming the game like a ukulele. And from the first second Robinho was bundled into Manchester City he carried the look of a man who had fallen asleep on the bus and missed his stop.
But Di Maria seemed tailor-made for success in the Premier League. His relentless energy and hard running were matched only by a remarkably steely resistance to f*cking things up. Famously, in the World Cup quarter final against Switzerland, he gave the ball away 51 times before popping up to score the winner in the 118th minute. The Daily Mail described it as ‘one of the worst match winning performances in history’ before going on to complain about foreign people and famous women who look fat on holiday.
The truth is, even for those fans who love nothing more than seeing Manchester United getting their nuts lashed with a wire coat hanger, the fact that Di Maria came and went so timidly is actually just sad. Perhaps it’s just another combination of a great player and terrible timing. Perhaps Di Maria was never convinced he’d be at Manchester United for very long. Or perhaps he’s just rubbish now and we should all turn our admiration to someone more deserving, like Cameron Jerome or Danny Graham.
Whatever you choose to believe, there’s an important lesson here for everyone from Louis van Gaal to you, dear reader. Always pay a fair price for quality shoes. (Even if they do smell like a tramp’s hat filled with Coco Pops.)