Is Real Madrid dangerman Angel Di Maria worth a British record fee?
Manchester United, 12/1 to lift the Premier League title, appear to have wasted little transfer time since their dismal opening day defeat to Swansea City and subsequent draw at Sunderland.
It seems embarrassment at Old Trafford was all that was needed to give the Red Devils a jolt, and convince the Glazers to dip into their wallets to snap up former Sporting Lisbon defender Marcos Rojo.
Now, fellow Argentina international and World Cup star Angel Di Maria is to swap Real Madrid for the hallowed turf of ‘the Theatre of Dreams’, with an incredible price tag of £59.7m agreed for his services. This makes him a British transfer record breaker.
With fans on the edge of their seats in anticipation of a summer blockbuster move for the Argentine attacker, his mooted move may cause more questions than it answers. In a time when marquee signings are the norm, with Barcelona and Real consistently vying to outdo each other in the tussle that has become the summer transfer market, it can be argued United have also been guilty of putting big names before squad balance.
Recent prestige purchases Robin van Persie and Juan Mata, who both arrived at Old Trafford less than 18 months apart in August 2012 and January 2014 respectively, are undeniably world class players.
However, the Red Devils squad is now bloated, with a raft of forwards and number tens competing for limited spaces, whilst equally important areas such as central midfield and defence have been neglected.
Is Di Maria not just another selection headache in the making for Louis van Gaal? The Dutch coach has already implemented a radical tactical change at Old Trafford to accommodate the talented trio of Mata, Van Persie and Wayne Rooney, and prevent them from playing out of position.
What United truly require is a tough tackling, imposing midfield enforcer of the Roy Keane breed or a brilliant box-to-box player who can grab games by the scruff of their neck and propel the team forward. Di Maria is a willing runner, and often a match winner, but is not in the mould of another reported and more needed target Arturo Vidal.
At the Bernabeu, Di Maria has been one of Los Blancos’ most consistent and underrated performers, leading the La Liga assist charts with 17 last season, and even reinvented himself in a more central attacking role to compensate for the mega-bucks arrival of Gareth Bale.
Following Real’s acquisition of World Cup star James Rodriguez, though, it seems the writing is on the wall for the 26-year-old at the Bernabeu.
To play in the attacking midfield berth that has become customary to him both for club and country, Di Maria would have to displace Mata. Van Gaal rates him highly, but could a wing back spot in place of ill-disciplined Brazilian Rafael or Ecuador skipper Antonio Valencia be a viable alternative?
Di Maria certainly has the engine, pace, workrate and versatility to make this role in the United boss’ favoured 3-4-1-2 formation his own, and can provide constant goal threat and delivery from out wide.
No matter the system, the Red Devils will always attempt to attack from the wings, and Di Maria would be an upgrade in that area. There is little doubt that the former Benfica star would also get the nod ahead of much-maligned widemen Ashley Young, Valencia and Wilfried Zaha if a more standard 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 setup were employed.
If even a proven Premier League star such as Mata can struggle at Old Trafford, though, there is no guarantee Di Maria will make the difference; although his adaptability, ability to press opponents and speed are all qualities United crave.
His anticipated arrival does, however, call into into question the future of young attacker Adnan Januzaj, United’s breakout talent from last term, and how he will find the required game time to develop. The young Belgian is widely tipped to become the Red Devils’ next homegrown hero, and it might be more prudent to nurture his abilities, instead saving the mooted Di Maria outlay for a threadbare defence and midfield.
It appears unlikely now that United will make signings in those areas before the window slams shut, but it seems senseless to keep adding attacking talent in the hope it will hide other evident holes in the squad. Tabloid gossip columns continue to link versatile Dutchman Daley Blind with a reunion with Van Gaal, his national manager at the recent World Cup, however.
Judging from the recent draw with Sunderland, in which big stars such as Mata and Rooney were again disappointing, the Red Devils, odds-on at 8/11 to finish outside the top four, will need more than just Di Maria to paper the cracks. However, ignoring the alarming bigger picture at Old Trafford, the acquisition of the talented Argentine would be a fantastic coup for a club not even competing in the Champions League.
Fans will just have to hope that Di Maria, nicknamed ‘noodle’, will not be burdened by his potential price tag. His arrival, whilst not bolstering the squad in the required positions, could boost morale enough to help United clinch silverware once more.