The theme is the same: the selling club shouldn’t be selling, and the buyer, Manchester United, are parting with an extraordinary amount of money in order to take advantage of a situation that has long pointed to an eventual sale.
Just as Chelsea had been crying out for Juan Mata’s invention during the first half of last season (and certainly for periods during the second half of the campaign), Real Madrid lacked the spark and drive of Angel Di Maria in their loss over two legs to Atletico Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup, with the midfielder only seeing limited minutes during the first leg.
There isn’t enough contrast to the styles of Xabi Alonso, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos in Real’s midfield. It’s to an extent that there really shouldn’t be a need for all three, and if three in the midfield is Carlo Ancelotti’s choice (which might not be the case upon Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to full fitness), the team need someone notably different who can roam and create further up the pitch.
If Gareth Bale had generated doubt about Di Maria’s future at the Bernabeu, James Rodriguez’s arrival following the World Cup made sure that not only did the Argentine not have a place in Carlo Ancelotti’s team, but his sale was now a necessity, with James having cost the European Champions £63 million from Monaco.
The Spanish side are set to recoup that now, with Manchester United the direct beneficiaries of Paris Saint-Germain’s inability to shake the grip of Financial Fair Play.
His requirement isn’t immediately clear at Old Trafford, but that doubt washes away seamlessly at the thought of Louis van Gaal converting to a 4-3-3 on a regular basis – which, even with his reluctance, he may have to do. United have lacked a truly world-class presence on the wings since Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Real Madrid in 2009. It’s about time they addressed an area of the attack that has proven to be such a hallmark of the team’s success over the past two decades.
And what a lift Di Maria will provide to the club. It’s telling that Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos reportedly requested for Real Madrid to keep hold of the Argentine this summer, such is his importance and improvement in the Spanish capital. He stood out in the Champions League final in Lisbon in May; he starred against Barcelona, tearing down the Catalans’ right flank in their league clash at the Bernabeu in March, and scoring in the Copa del Rey final against their heated rivals; and he registered 17 assists in the league alone last season.
A major criticism aimed at United is that they haven’t always bought big, signing players that would support the notion that this club is England’s equivalent to the might of Real Madrid. Juan Mata’s signing served more of a purpose for off-field failings; Di Maria will do the same, but there is no doubt that the parting of such a fee for a genuinely world-class talent is what United need at this time to improve their uninspiring on-pitch performances.
United’s league opener at home to Swansea was proof that this team isn’t ready yet for a move to a back three with wing-backs. The personnel simply aren’t good enough. The Dutch-flavoured 4-3-3, however, will bring positive results based on those available to the manager.
Argentina’s use of Di Maria in the centre of midfield at the World Cup supported Ancelotti’s initial conversion of the winger to a more central role. If Marcos Rojo was bought to play on the left of a back three, he should be able to play as the left-sided centre-back in a back four. And if rumours are to be believed that the club are looking to tie up a deal for Daley Blind from Ajax, van Gaal will have three first choice pieces in Blind, Ander Herrera and Di Maria to effectively play three in the middle.
Real Madrid are losing a player they don’t have elsewhere in the team, whereas Isco can comfortably substitute James, and, as mentioned Alonso, Modric and Kroos serve similar roles.
On the receiving end is Manchester United. I have no doubt that the club have stumbled upon this deal, rather than it being the product of any long-term thinking. But there will only be positives to take from a deal that will shatter the club’s previous transfer record.