It wouldn’t be in Angel Di Maria’s character to say so publicly but, as he returns to Old Trafford this week, the Paris Saint-Germain forward badly wants to prove a point to a few current Manchester United figures who personally questioned that character.
Much of it stems from one explosive day in the dressing room when many of the players finally got fed up with the Argentine, and club officials decided it was time to sell up. After another disappointingly anonymous display, Wayne Rooney offered some robust criticism to Di Maria’s face. A proper argument erupted. Strong words were used.
Stronger words are still used about Di Maria from some of his former teammates. “Talented but a complete fanny” is a conspicuously consistent description. Others just felt he “wasn’t giving 100%”.
The vast majority at Old Trafford would agree the £60m signing was one of the biggest flops in the club’s history and a symbolic expensive failure that perfectly reflected the dysfunction of the post-Ferguson era.
Many at PSG, however, would greatly dispute those perceptions of the popular Di Maria. Far from a weak character, they would argue he just needs the right setting to bring out real strength. This is after all a player who had the big-game mentality to be man of the match in a Champions League final, in 2014. This is the attacker so effective that his Argentina teammates have for a long time considered him the national team’s most important player after Leo Messi - who loves Di Maria.
The 30-year-old is one of a distinctive group to have played with Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar, but has crucially excelled with every one of them. Far from the flop he was at United, Di Maria has shown real resolve to recover from that spell and actually prove one of PSG’s most astute signings. He is off the back of the most productive season of his career in 2017-18 with 21 goals in 45 games.
He returns to Old Trafford in peak form, and all the more important a figure because of injuries to Neymar and Edinson Cavani. Di Maria is at least primed to make his former club pay in another way now, and show them the great number-seven a minority at Old Trafford still just lament they never got to see.