Angel Di Maria to Manchester United: Winger was once sold for 35 footballs - now it's £60m

When the winger, who used to work in a coal yard with the rest of his family, was transferred as a youngster, the fee was not much to shout about. Paul Smith traces the Argentine’s amazing rise

Britain’s most expensive player Angel Di Maria will cost Manchester United a staggering £60m – a sum that somewhat dwarfs the first transfer fee the 26-year-old commanded: 35 footballs.

Read more: Di Maria is just what United need
Did Van Gaal drop Vidal hint?
Gary Neville on Di Maria

Di Maria, one of three children born to Miguel and Diana, grew up in the city of Perdriel in the Mendoza district of west Argentina. He was obsessed with football and spent every waking hour taking to the streets with friends in his neighbourhood. When scouts from Rosario Central first spotted him there was a minor issue as he was already committed to playing for the local side Torito.

Angel Di Maria undergoes medical

“They drove a hard bargain to release me,” recalled Di Maria. “The transfer fee was 35 footballs. That probably puts into perspective where I was and how much it took to get me. Mind you I was very young, about four so I’m not sure it really counts.”

Mind you, the hyperactive youngster was lucky to make it past his first birthday. The family had moved to a new home which was falling apart and Di Maria fell down a well in the garden. “My mother always recalls the story,” Di Maria added. “I was a year old and had a baby walker and went outside and fell into a well. I was lucky because they saved me in time otherwise I wouldn’t be here to talk about it.”

Angel Di Maria at the World Cup Angel Di Maria at the World Cup  

That was the first of many incidents that prompted Di Maria’s mother to take him to a doctor because she was concerned there might be something wrong with him. However, he believes it was the start of his career in the game.

“My mother got tired of me breaking everything in the house so she took me to see a doctor when I was three. I was running around the examination room breaking everything. The doctor just said ‘Sign him up for a sport’ and that is where my career began.”

Growing up in relative poverty has taught Di Maria to appreciate the finer things in life. “I had a humble upbringing and grew up playing on the streets of Perdriel. We didn’t have much. Our house was small and I shared a room with my sister. But I don’t feel angry. There are people who are a lot worse off. My values come from my upbringing. Humility, to become someone in life. My childhood was about having enough to eat, having the bare necessities.

Video: 'We could sign Messi' Louis Van Gaal jokes

“My parents worked so they could earn enough to buy me a pair of football boots. It’s something I will always keep inside me. For me to play football and have boots meant my two sisters went without.

“My father worked at a coal yard with my mother. It was a horrible existence and when the weather was bad all they had was a metal roof over their heads. But both me and my sisters worked at the coal yard as well. I started aged 10 and by the time I was 15 I was helping with deliveries. It was hard work.

“I often think how lucky I am to have football. I was a terrible student. If I didn’t have football I would have continued to work in the coal yard. What else would I have done?

“My father worked at that coal yard for 16 years until I made him give up work when I joined Benfica. It was nice to be in a position to be able to do that and say ‘Dad, you don’t have to do this any more’.

“I was heartbroken for my father because he could have played football but got a serious knee injury playing for River Plate reserves. My mother always reminds me how lucky I am and that I am doing what my father wanted to do, I am living his dream.

“None the less he is a very kind and wise man. Family means everything to him and I feel blessed that I am now in a position to repay him and my family and make sure they don’t have to struggle. My father made so many sacrifices for me. I will always remember what he said when Benfica made a bid for me: ‘Son, this train only passes by once in a lifetime so you have to get on and go forward.’”

Angel Di Maria in action in the Spanish Super Cup for Real Madrid Angel Di Maria in action in the Spanish Super Cup for Real Madrid  

Di Maria’s mother also made sacrifices for her son. “When I began to play for Rosario Central when I was six it took us 30 minutes to get to the training ground,” he added. “She took me on a bicycle, three of us on that bike. I would sit on the back and my younger sister would sit on a seat on the handlebars and my mother would ride the bike. It was hard during winter. Can you believe we did this for seven years?

“My mother is religious too. She is the one who blesses me and gives me strength before games. She lights candles for me before every game. Religion is important for all of us. My wife, Jorgelina, also lights candles for God to bless me and look over me.”

On the field Di Maria has a reputation for being a relentless runner with extraordinary stamina. “I have frequently left the field when an opponent asks where I get the strength to run so much. But I have always been the same, it’s just the way I am. I never stop running.

“I’m very focused, rarely get emotional. I think I have only ever cried once in my career when I got injured playing for Argentina in the semi-final of the Under-20 World Cup against Chile. I was heartbroken to miss the final and wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Naturally I get goosebumps in big games but in general I don’t let emotion give way to weakness.

“I like to think I have given my family back something by buying them houses and gifts. Hopefully I will be able to continue doing that until my career ends.” With his cut of the transfer fee, he will.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US