The summer’s biggest deals have thus far been pushed through by extraordinary circumstances but the Argentine’s desire to make things happen could spark another flurry of moves
CORRESPONDENT COLUMN By Sam Lee
Angel Di Maria does not do calm and patient. Much of the first three years of his life were spent running around the house breaking things and, on one occasion, falling into a well. Still a toddler, he was taken to a doctor by his exasperated mother.
“Sign him up for a sport” was the professional verdict and, even at such an early age, he was on his way to the top – at his own speed.
This 100mph, haphazard approach to his first few years on this earth will come as no surprise to anybody that saw him play for Manchester United last season. A substitute appearance at Anfield in March serves as a microcosm: introduced 10 minutes into the second half to take advantage of Steven Gerrard’s red card, Di Maria hared around the pitch like a loose dog at the local park.
Every single thing that he tried was designed to kill off Liverpool as soon as humanly possible, if not sooner; first-time through-balls, breakneck dribbles and even catching the ball in both arms before it had gone out of play.
The canine analogy is harsh; he set up Juan Mata with a delightful chip and created the penalty incident with a clever pass to Daley Blind. It’s just that everything else was a bit crazy.
It is why he is off to Paris Saint-Germain. He simply did not fit in with Louis van Gaal’s calm, collected vision for the sport. “He loves possession and he doesn’t like being at risk of losing the ball,” Ander Herrera said of the Dutchman’s outlook just one day after that game at Anfield. “He wants long stretches of possession and keeping the ball.”
In two sentences, the Basque midfielder unwittingly explained why his team-mate’s spell at Old Trafford did not work.
Di Maria’s impatience has come to the fore again in recent weeks and anybody with a vested interested in this summer’s transfer window should rejoice.
As reported by Goal, the Argentine quickly made it known behind the scenes that he had no desire to play for the club again.
Told by United that he had to rejoin his current club on their pre-season tour of the United States this Saturday, he simply didn’t show up. Van Gaal insists that he “doesn’t know why”. Whatever the truth, Di Maria is typically not hanging around. Had he not been focused on the Copa America throughout June, he could have been gone already.
His impending exit, for around £45 million, could spark another flurry of deals in what has so far been a quiet, pensive summer.
You know that things have reached fever pitch when, just three or four days after the transfer window officially opens, fans on Twitter are lamenting their club’s lack of signings. Of the few big-money deals to have been finalised already this summer, most have been pushed through by extraordinary deadlines.
Arda Turan’s €41m (£28m) move to Barcelona, which some suggest was completed at least in part to put potential new president Joan Laporta in a tricky position, was rushed over the line before the club’s presidential elections. It was done so quickly, in fact, that the midfielder even came with a two-week, no-questions-asked returns policy.
Raheem Sterling, perhaps like Di Maria, was faced with the possibility of going on tour with his club before a transfer materialised, so he quickly took steps to get things done. A few days later, he’d completed his Manchester City medical and left Liverpool for £49m.
United themselves are a fine example of how this window, seemingly more than any other, has sparked into life only under duress. Memphis Depay was signed up early, way back in May, but only because PSG came calling and forced their hand.
Ed Woodward was praised earlier in July for signing three players in one weekend and he was driven by Van Gaal’s desire to get as many new signings on the plane to America as possible. At the start of that week, Torino’s president said that anybody who wanted Matteo Darmian would have to do a deal by Sunday. By Saturday, he was a United player.
It was the same day on which Bayern Munich announced that Bastian Schweinsteiger was heading to Old Trafford; as soon as he returned from his summer holiday he informed the Bavarians of his wish to move (which itself prompted Arturo Vidal’s €40m [£27.8m] move back to Germany). Morgan Schneiderlin, the subject of United interest for weeks, returned to training earlier that week and was signed up at the last minute so that he could join his new club on tour.
But United have been made to wait for other new arrivals. The biggest logjam of the entire window involves David de Gea’s proposed move to Real Madrid. Madrid want De Gea, United want Sergio Ramos.
United have moved to sign Sergio Romero, in part to prepare for De Gea’s potential departure, Van Gaal has suggested, but the Old Trafford club and Madrid are thus far unwilling to meet in the middle and, for over a month now, everything has been on hold.
Interest in Valencia’s Nicolas Otamendi from both United and Madrid clearly depends on the outcome of the De Gea-Ramos negotiations and, the longer for which it drags on, the harder it will be for all parties.
Other big-money deals are similarly on hold. With a host of clubs interested, Paul Pogba threatened to be at the centre of the summer’s activities but his obvious desire to play for Barcelona has made it a one-horse race. It has not proved to be a simple deal, however: it has been another waiting game.
The elections at Camp Nou have affected this move more than any other (even apart from Barca’s ban on registering players this summer). Ariedo Braida, essentially working for Josep Maria Bartomeu’s regime, tried to negotiate with Juventus before the socios went to the polls, while Laporta had hoped his and running-mate Eric Abidal’s relationship with Pogba’s agent would stand them in good stead if they triumphed. With Bartomeu emerging victorious and resuming office on Monday, developments could be forthcoming. For now, though, everybody is left waiting.
It has been a similar story for City and Kevin De Bruyne. The Premier League side had been hanging around for the outcome of contract negotiations between the Belgian and Wolfsburg before making their move. They’ve got the cash and the player wants to move but nothing is yet finalised. Arsenal, too, are happy to wait until the end of the window to see how Rafael Benitez uses Karim Benzema before they dip their toes in the water once again.
The Di Maria move, though, could spark things into life. United have been linked with both Edinson Cavani and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, perhaps tied into a deal for the Argentine, but both seem set to stay put. Van Gaal has turned his attentions to Barcelona’s Pedro, who, like one or two others, was awaiting the outcome of the elections before deciding his next move.
With a relatively low buy-out clause of £22m and United’s coffers about to be boosted by Di Maria’s sale, Pedro could soon be moving clubs. That would leave Chelsea, themselves admirers of the Spain international, exploring other options. Their next move could expediate exits for Mohamed Salah and even Juan Cuadrado, if the Blues can get their money back on the Colombian.
It may not trigger a huge chain reaction like any De Gea-Ramos swap but Di Maria to PSG will have a profound impact on this summer’s transfer dealings.
His time in England was far from perfect but, whether on or off the pitch, you can’t say that he doesn’t make things happen.