In perhaps one of the more interesting transfer stories of late, Manchester United have broken the bank to bring in winger Angel Di Maria from Real Madrid for £59.7m, a British record transfer fee. A statement of intent from manager Louis Van Gaal that, despite the Old Trafford side’s decline over the past year, the club can still attract the most coveted players in the world. The Dutchman has endured a torrid start to life in Manchester, encapsulated by a humiliating 4-0 League Cup defeat to League One side MK Dons on Tuesday night. The extent to which United were so easily outmuscled, outmanoeuvred and outplayed at Stadium:mk is the clearest indication of the depths to which the 13-time Premier League champions have fallen, a sign that much work is to be done under Van Gaal. Morale is at an all time low so the arrival of Argentine Di Maria will be seen as a massive boost. He brings a decent reputation to the squad but can he change United’s fortunes on the pitch?
The 26-year-old enjoyed arguably his most impressive season last campaign, scoring nine goals and providing 17 assists for Real Madrid in all competitions in 2013/14, a testament to his industry and work ethic. United have lacked a winger of his quality for quite a while – a fearless, energetic player with unlimited willingness to run at defences and provide a potent attacking threat in the final third of the pitch. Whether his record last season justifies the hefty price tag which brought him to Old Trafford will be up for debate (at least compared to others such as former Madrid teammate Cristiano Ronaldo, who has more than lived up to his price tag) but his arrival will give Van Gaal greater attacking options in addition to the world-class (well, at least on paper) teaming of Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie, Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj.
But Di Maria’s arrival only partially hides the fact that United are a side in disarray, with no leadership or spine within the squad to turn their fortunes around. The Argentine will be one of the best of a distinctly average United team, lacking the quality to truly threaten other sides nor frighten them. The fear factor that surrounded the Red Devils during Sir Alex Ferguson’s illustrious reign has eroded and, based on the side’s hammering by MK Dons, all teams that face United can now be more confident of taking the game to them and overcoming Van Gaal’s side.
The former Holland coach has a considerable job on his hands just to re-install confidence in a side that have yet to win a competitive game this season, let alone getting the best out of his new star man. As good as Di Maria can be and despite his accomplishments last season, he is not yet the complete package as an attacking midfielder or a winger and he may take time to adapt in England, something that United simply cannot afford or risk delving deeper into trouble. His arrival may improve team morale but this will mean nothing if United continue to struggle in the coming weeks. The Manchester United boss has finally got his man, but the arrival does not immediately address the real problems surrounding Old Trafford.