Monday's 2-1 loss to Arsenal was a bitter-sweet night for Angel di Maria. On the plus side, he produced an inch-perfect cross for Wayne Rooney to head Manchester United level. Juxtaposed against that moment of precision, 60 seconds of stupidity saw him heading for a premature rub-down.
But even before that minute of madness, di Maria wasn't the player of just a few months ago, and he hasn't been for some time. Louis van Gaal says the Argentine "has trained very well and I don’t think there is a problem,” but The18 disagrees. Di Maria is a shell of the man who lit up the Champions League final and was head-and-shoulders United’s most exciting player at the start of the season. Too subjective for you? In his first 10 BPL fixtures he scored three goals and created a further six; in his last 10 he has just two assists to his name.
Murmurs abound that di Maria’s family is unsettled in Manchester. That's not difficult to imagine: life in Lancashire is, both literally and figuratively, a thousand miles from Madrid. To make matters worse, the Argentine's Cheshire home was broken into earlier in the year, and his wife has apparently refused to return ever since: the house has since been listed for sale.
But nor has di Maria been helped on the pitch: van Gaal, as is the Dutchman's wont, has shifted the former Madridista from back to front and right across the front line, too rarely allowing the Argentine to get down to his natural business of tearing down the wing. He's also made him the scape-goat for some pretty abject team performances, substituting him early in a number of recent games. Van Gaal is so focused on re-training his players' minds that he's lost sight of what makes di Maria such a dangerous and natural talent.
The conclusion being widely drawn in the press is that Angel di Maria has already mentally checked out at Old Trafford, and that Manchester United will sell their record signing this summer. Which is all well and good, but where will he go? Barcelona are locked out of this summer's transfer window, Real Madrid aren't in the business of re-signing former players and United aren't in the habit of selling such talent to their domestic rivals. If he's to go anywhere, therefore, it can only be Paris St Germain.
But perhaps the conclusion we should be reaching is that the combative van Gaal needs to throw a shoulder around his Argentine winger and show him some Dutch love (not a euphemism, so far as we’re aware). Di Maria is one of the few players at United with the pace, skill and explosiveness to turn around the Red Devils' current propensity to ponder in possession, as his early season form demonstrated. Louis van Gaal's priority for the remaining months of 2014-15 should be to make his record signing as happy and contented off the pitch as possible, and leave him mentally unencumbered on it.