Gary Neville believes Manchester United’s chances of securing a return to the Champions League depends on out-of-form midfielder Angel Di Maria’s ability to live up to his £60m price tag.
Di Maria has been hauled off early in his last two appearances for United having failed to impress, and having joined from Real Madrid in a British record £59.7m transfer last summer, is in danger of becoming the biggest flop in the club’s history.
Manager Louis van Gaal has urged fans to keep patience with Di Maria is he may not settle until next season, but The Independent’s columnist Danny Higginbotham believes the problem lies in Van Gaal’s tactics rather than matters off the pitch as the Dutchman has claimed.
However, former United defender Neville has explained his shock at Di Maria’s dramatic fall from grace, having been part of the Real side that won the Champions League last year and helped take Argentina to the World Cup final in Brazil.
Writing in his column for the Daily Telegraph, Neville said: “I fully expected Di Maria and Luke Shaw to form a devastating partnership down the left flank and, even at close to £60m, I had no thoughts whatsoever that his signing was a risk.
“When he dribbled down the wing at the King Power Stadium before chipping the Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel to score his second goal in three games since arriving from Madrid, the United fan in me was so excited and I was thinking, ‘Here we go!’
Manchester United summer signings - assessed
Manchester United summer signings - assessed
1/6 Ander Herrera (£29million)
A long-term target for the club, Herrera finally arrived from Bilbao for nearly £30m, United’s first move of the window. The Spaniard has had a couple of injury problems of his own but, inexplicably if you ask fans, has not found favour under Van Gaal. The midfielder, classy on the ball and strong in the tackle, looks a good player whenever he plays, but has only started six Premier League matches. Hit or Miss? MISS
2/6 Luke Shaw (£30m)
Struggled with fitness (and perhaps weight) issues at the start of the season, feeling Van Gaal’s wrath. Had to wait until the end of September to make his first start for his new team. Clearly talented the England teenager has grown in confidence and gained the confidence of his manager; Shaw is now a starter on the left when fit. HIT
3/6 Marcos Rojo (£16m)
Another who has struggled with injury problems, Rojo has only started 10 matches this season. Has been inconsistent and erratic in his performances and has a long way to go to reach the level of the men he replaced, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand. MISS
4/6 Angel Di Maria (£59.7m)
The British record signing started his United career fantastically, looking like a player worth all the money that was paid for him. But sadly for the club he has picked up a series of injuries that have limited him to just 131 minutes of action since the end of November. United know they overpaid for him, but he will come good when fit. MISS
5/6 Daley Blind (£14m)
When Blind started his first couple of games, fans and pundits wondered if the club had found a new midfield linchpin. But Blind was then injured and Michael Carrick returned in great form, leaving a those same fans and pundits wondering what the fuss over the Dutchman was about. His versatility will come in handy in the future, however. MISS
6/6 Radamel Falcao (£6m loan)
The biggest disappointment of them all, Falcao arrived on an expensive loan deal that United are now hesitant of extending. The Colombian star has played well in spots, but he was bought for his goals and has produced just three of them in his 13 matches. Still far from full fitness or his very best, a permanent deal will not happen unless Monaco lower their £43m asking price, or the striker begins to find the kind of form that made him one of the world’s best. MISS
“It was an example of everything I expected Di Maria to bring to the Premier League - pace, audacity and a moment of magic capable of turning a game.
“But since that day, Di Maria has scored just two more goals - one of them coming against Yeovil in the FA Cup - and he has quite simply looked a shadow of his former self.
“He has come to United when he did not want to leave Madrid, has suffered the trauma of a burglary, and started to work for a new manager while playing in a team that is still in a ‘storm’ phase of development.
“All of those are factors that would go some way to explaining why Di Maria has struggled after his bright start, but I feel as though I have a parrot on either shoulder, with one telling me to give the benefit of the doubt because of those reasons while the other is saying that, actually, the time has come for a £60m player to deliver.
“If United are to achieve their aims this season, primarily Champions League qualification, Di Maria is going to have to rid himself of the complexities that have emerged over the past eight months and escape the demons that are playing on his mind.”
Di Maria’s first chance to show his poor form is just a temporary blip comes in Monday’s crucial FA Cup sixth round clash with Arsenal, with the competition likely to be both clubs only method of possible silverware this season.
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