herald

Saturday 16 December 2017

Madrid's loss could be huge gain for United

According to his father, Angel di Maria does not ask for a lot. This Valentine's Day baby is not after more money, nor more respect but simply a bit of love and affection from his paymasters.

At last, at Manchester United, one of the least valued superstars in world football - if there can be such a creature - may just have found the place where he can be truly, madly, deeply appreciated.

The standing ovation which Di Maria (right) soa ked up from his new Old Trafford admirers after his thrilling man of the match contribution in United's crushing defeat of QPR on Sunday had a touch of reverential rediscovery about it.

It felt like the Theatre of Dreams had found a buccaneer with the pace, invention and elan which seemed to have deserted the place of late, a man worthy of inheriting the No 7 shirt previously donned by the likes of George Best, Eric Cantona and Cristiano Ronaldo.

BREAKTHROUGH

More than that, you could sense on this breakthrough day for manager Louis Van Gaal the possibility that Di Maria, with all the abundant gifts that make him at nearly £60 million the most expensive signing in English football, may have found a club where he could again become the king, not undervalued courtier.

That's how Di Maria had begun to feel at Real Madrid. He was the star who, whatever his considerable achievements on the pitch, could never shine quite brightly enough for his club President Florentino Perez not to be dazzled and distracted by new comets.

"Angel was never appreciated. It was like they didn't want him in the club and showed him no affection," wailed his dad Miguel. "My son is tired of always demonstrating and showing everything."

He had a point. His boy had been key to Madrid achieving La Decima last season, his numerous assists and electric contributions, capped by his historic slalom sprint down the left flank which led to Gareth Bale's key goal in that Champions League final, making him invaluable for coach Carlos Ancelotti.

Not for Perez, though, apparently. In came the World Cup flavours of the month, Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez, for untold riches, leaving Di Maria to have to ask once again where he exactly he fitted into the stellar plans.

Eventually he decided.

"Unfortunately, today I have to go but I want to make it clear that I never wished to leave," he wrote in an open letter to Madrid's fans, who, to be fair, like his team mates had never taken him for granted.

There was an irony here. If Di Maria had been able to complete his World Cup journey - injury in the quarter-final cut short his growing influence on the competition - who is to say Argentina might not have gone on to win the trophy?

Di Maria's only real mistake, seemingly, was not to be as pretty or marketable as a Rodriguez or a Ronaldo.

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