Manchester United winger Angel Di Maria is poised to complete a transfer to Ligue 1’s richest club, Paris Saint-Germain, and is headed to France for a medical at PSG this week. Manchester United are not going to recoup all of what they paid Real Madrid last summer for Di Maria’s services, but the Argentine footballer is still commanding a hefty fee, rumored to be in the region of £44 million.
Di Maria was far from his best form last season, and it’s clear that, by the campaign’s conclusion, he had fallen out of favor with his manager and fans alike. Regardless, in the near future, United supporters may be disdainfully looking to Will Arnett for inspiration, thinking: we’ve made a huge mistake.
Unbalancing the Books
Before touching on Di Maria the footballer, let’s look at this transfer from a purely financial standpoint. In 2014, Manchester United paid Real Madrid £59.7 million for Di Maria, making him the highest priced player ever to land on English shores (though not the highest priced export, as both Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale’s transfer fees exceed Di Maria’s). This means that the purported fee of £44 million would leave Manchester United with a net loss of roughly £15 million.
Although there are rumors that Louis Van Gaal wants to hold out for one or two million more, the financial loss for United still looks to be eight figures.
Manchester United are among the biggest—and richest—clubs in the world, and tens of millions of pounds are not intimidating figures to a club with coffers this deep. But even the deepest wells run dry.
Consider this: had Manchester United, rather than Arsenal, swooped in to secure the services of proven goalkeeper Petr Cech earlier this summer, £15 million would have been enough money not only to pay for his transfer fee, but also cover his wages this season. Should David De Gea indeed force a move to Real Madrid, something that looks more likely with each passing day, Manchester United could certainly use another world-class goalkeeper on their books.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger explicitly compared Petr Cech’s move to the Emirates to Manchester United’s capture of Edwin van der Sar from Fulham several years ago. In that move, Manchester United secured a veteran keeper who ultimately proved vital in earning silverware for the club.
The loss of £15 million from one Di Maria transfer to the next doesn’t automatically preclude particular transfers, but with massive debt already on the books and question marks at various positions (especially goalie), it’s hard to argue they couldn’t use it.
The Best Was Yet To Come
It is a commonplace among English Premier League pundits that this league is a physical one, and that players from clubs elsewhere in the world often take a year or so to settle into the English game. Of course, there are exceptions, Sergio Aguero being a notable outlier, having scored more EPL goals for Manchester City in 2011-2012 than he had the previous year in La Liga with Atletico Madrid (23 vs. 20 in league play). Still, with the physicality on the pitch, and the lack of a winter break in the fixture list, more often than not, there is a learning curve to be climbed in England. And climb it Di Maria can—or, so it seems, could have.
Di Maria is among the world’s best footballers, but when considering the demands of a physical league, it must be said that his build is very slight. This is not a criticism to say that he would’ve needed to bulk up in order to succeed in England (though it probably wouldn’t have hurt), but rather that more than 20 EPL games might be needed in order to fully acclimate a player who is without an imposing physical presence and who is liable to be knocked off the ball in a shoulder-to-shoulder challenge.
It takes time to develop intuition, and that’s exactly what Di Maria needed, time to inculcate an intuitive sense of how his undeniable skill might be used to make opposing players’ physicality work against them.
In the summer of 2015, based on his performance in the Copa America, Di Maria is in fine form. Admittedly, carrying momentum from international to club football—and vice versa—is anything but a simple formula for inertia, but you’d nonetheless want a player coming off of excellent, rather than woebegone international games.
Di Maria’s games in Chile this summer were, in a word, excellent. In his six appearances in the Copa America, Di Maria notched two goals, two assists and maintained a passing efficiency of 82.6 percent. His work earned him Man of the Match honors twice in those six games—which is twice as many as he earned throughout the entire 2014-15 EPL season.
Obviously, teammates matter, and Di Maria’s teammates in Argentina are exceptionally talented footballers. But so are the players at Old Trafford. Further, with Van Gaal’s glut of signings this summer, the squad is poised to be improved from last season (when, let’s not forget, Manchester United still managed to finish in the top four).
Di Maria might have rediscovered the form that made him England’s highest priced signing in the first place. Having notched 17 in La Liga in 2013-14, he might’ve even broken 20 assists. But now, when this transfer is finalized, we’ll never know if he simply needed a few more games to settle into the EPL. Then, for 2015, goals and assists will all be guesswork; the only certain figure for Di Maria, at Old Trafford, will be this: -£15,000,000.