Life at the moment in England is not going in favour for Argentine/Manchester United striker Di Maria. The player who can barely speak a word in English (though he has employed the services of a personal teacher) is not finding things easy as he thought it would be. By now he must have asked his teacher the meaning of the chant directed towards him at almost every away ground he has been to in England. ‘What a waste of money’ they sing about the most expensive player signed by a British club when he joined Manchester United from Real Madrid for a record £59.7 million last summer.
Di Maria will not be spared at Deepdale supporters as his side takes on Preston North End at the FA Cup fifth round clash. And judging by the Argentine’s performances so far in a United shirt, the message of the chant rings true.
Di Maria has played like there was a decimal point out of place in the contracts exchanged to take him to the club in August. The former Real Madrid star suggested recently that United will be his last club in Europe after spells at Madrid and Benfica, but the 26-year-old will need to start producing his best form if he’s to enjoy a long career at Old Trafford.
That’s if he even wants one. Di Maria is understood to earn a salary in the region of £280,000-a-week, but there have been suggestions already that he and his family might be looking to leave the north west. Di Maria is currently living in the Lowry Hotel with his wife and daughter following a terrifying ordeal two weeks ago when burglars attempted to smash into his house while the family was still in the property.
His wife is refusing to return to the Cheshire mansion and the incident has only added to Di Maria’s problems adapting to life in England.
Spanish-speaking group in the United dressing room has helped Di Maria but in a recent interview, he admitted he was struggling with the weather which “doesn’t help a lot” and was frank about his problems learning the language.
Asked about the progress of his English, Di Maria told Fifa’s official website: “More like regressing! It’s very bad. [I’ve learned] very little and only understand a small bit. That said, I’m trying to learn it bit by bit and I’m taking classes.”
How much Di Maria wanted to move to United in the first place is a matter of debate and Paul Scholes, who retains close links with the club, suggested the attacking midfielder was unhappy earlier in the season.
Di Maria started last summer hoping to sign a new contract with Real Madrid but was essentially forced out after failing to agree terms with the club before they pursued World Cup star James Rodriguez as their 2014 Galactico. His flirtation with Paris Saint-Germain suggested money might be his primary concern before eventually switching to Manchester, where his representative Jorge Mendes retains extremely close ties to the club’s hierarchy.
Just like Radamel Falcao who is another player represented by Mendes, there is a sense that the signing of Di Maria was driven by United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward rather than Louis Van Gaal, the man who should be leading the club’s transfer strategy. Not that Van Gaal would have complained about Di Maria’s arrival given the electrifying form he showed in the white of Real Madrid but, as yet, he has not even come close to replicating in United red.
The early signs were encouraging when he scored three goals in his first five appearances for United but has not netted a single Premier League goal since, registering only one subsequent strike at lowly Yeovil in the FA Cup. Even Chris Smalling has scored as many league goals as Di Maria after the defender’s double in last week’s 3-1 home win over Burnley, with the Argentine’s record of 432 minutes per goal about twice as high as Van Gaal would have expected.
Not that Van Gaal’s tactics have helped Di Maria. He has been played in uncomfortable roles in a stifling system, rather than been allowed to thrive in midfield – where he starred for Madrid in their La Decima triumph last season – or in the wing role where he made his name.
He has still provided eight assists in his 17 league appearances, two of which came in a much-improved display against Burnley last Wednesday. He crossed expertly for Smalling to score United’s second and won the penalty for the third after racing through and drawing a foul from Scott Arfield.
And it just so happens that Van Gaal chose to play him in a wide role for that game, releasing the shackles and allowing Di Maria to run at defenders. Perhaps the Dutchman has realised that he should be building his side around United’s record signing.
Di Maria’s greatest quality is driving at defenders but his 92 dribbles attempted this season are dwarfed by more than a dozen players from Eden Hazard (189) to Moussa Sissoko (127) and Jason Puncheon (101). His 36 dribbles completed is a poor success rate but the fact that Di Maria has created 10 ‘big chances’ – the same as Alexis Sanchez, one of the stars of the season – points to the danger he can pose in the final third.
But it will need some turnaround before Di Maria can start showing supporters home and away that he was worth the money.