Ángel Di María joined Manchester United last summer for a British record transfer fee of just shy of 60 million pounds. Here was the Man of the Match in last season’s Champions League final, one of the stars of the World Cup, coming off the finest season of his career. United fans greeted his signing with understandable excitement.
“Holy shit, we got Di María!” was a typical response from Reds.
After summer upon summer of largely mediocre additions under the latter years of Sir Alex’s Ferguson’s reign, it was a nice change for United fans to be able to get excited over superstar additions. Fergie had a knack for spinning pig shit into solid gold — he won two league titles in three years with about one and a half serviceable midfielders — but Di María was supposed to be a sure bet for new manager Louis van Gaal. He was a Rolls Royce of a footballer, in the prime of his career, with searing pace and a willingness to graft that was sure to endure him to the Old Trafford faithful.
So…what the hell happened? For those that regularly watch United, the explanation is frustratingly simple. Somewhere around the turn of year, Di María stopped giving any semblance of a shit.
Despite starting his United career well, and saying what needed to be said on record (“happy to be here,” “honored to wear this shirt,” etc.), his performances declined dramatically. Though he never hit the dizzying heights of his last season in Madrid, his early performances in a United shirt made it clear that he was a player of world class talent. But somewhere along the way, he lost either the capacity or (more likely) the will to apply that talent.
Di María would frequently switch off during matches, not just ignoring defensive duties, but often taking the laziest option in attack as well. He reverted to all the worst tendencies that he had seemingly outgrown during his time in Madrid: running down blind alleys, taking ill-advised shots when teammates were better placed, and regularly pulling out of challenges. Squeals of excitement were replaced by groans of annoyance when the Argentine was on the ball.
As Ferguson once said, fans love a trier. Concerted effort can make up for many shortcomings in the eyes of the Old Trafford faithful, as recently departed striker Radamel Falcao was no doubt relieved to find out. United’s other big name signing of the summer was, for all intents and purposes, utterly useless this season. Falcao couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo, and he has more inches on his johnson than he has goals to his name in 2014-15. But at least he tried. And for that, the crowd loved him, and was willing to forgive the fact that Falcao’s body just didn’t seem to be cooperating.
Di María, on the hand, took United supporters to the field in which he grew his fucks to show them that it was barren.
To make things worse, he would occasionally show flashes of his obvious brilliance. A mesmerizing run here, a pinpoint accurate outside-of-the-boot cross there. Tellingly, of United’s four official goal-of-the-season contenders, Di María scored one and created two others. The supreme quality that he is able to produce when he feels like it only serves to make his lackluster performances look worse by comparison.
With all due respect to Eden Hazard and Sergio Agüero, Ángel Di María should be owning the Premier League. He is that good, but he apparently couldn’t be bothered to show it.
Many Premier League imports struggle in their debut seasons, so there’s still hope that Di María can start playing at a passable level. After all, when he was in form, a combination of injuries elsewhere in the team and van Gaal dicking about with formations meant that the rest of the team was struggling.
IRL, he was understandably left shaken up by an attempted robbery at his house in the middle of the season, and reports say that he and his family are not quite settled in Manchester as a result. All these are mitigating factors that shouldn’t be ignored, and poor form is almost never as simple as a player just not trying hard enough (despite what I said a few paragraphs ago).
But none of that is enough reason for fans to accept their record signing strolling about the pitch looking disinterested.
The lasting image of Di María’s first season at Manchester United should have been of him scoring against Leicester City: an audacious chip over the keeper from the edge of the box to finish off a slick attacking move.
Instead, it will more likely be of his final appearance at Hull City: subbed off after 20 minutes, presumably injured, but without having made much of an impact and looking thoroughly and unquestionably unarsed.