Di Maria must win over fans at Real Madrid

AP

A quick and technically gifted player, Angel di Maria, has caught the eye both in his home country, Argentina, and with Benfica in Portugal, from where he joined Real Madrid this summer.

Jose Mourinho, the new Real Madrid coach, is not a man who enjoys being overshadowed, so it is perhaps no surprise the club's signings have been a little more low key this summer. This time last year, Madrid splashed out hundreds of millions of Euros on the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Karim Benzema.

In years gone by, it is Madrid who have been able to take their pick of the biggest names in football and field a team of ‘Galacticos'. They certainly remain an attractive proposition for many players but Manchester City are now the ones that can offer the biggest bucks. It is something that Mourinho has recently admitted himself, after revealing that he missed out on signing Serbian full-back Aleksander Kolarov. The Spanish giants are not used to being outmuscled on the financial front but Kolarov joined City last month for £16 million as part of another remarkable summer of team strengthening which has seen their Middle-East owners plough more than £100m into the club.

And Mourinho, who joined Madrid after leading Inter Milan to a domestic and European treble last season, concedes even they can't compete. “I understand that if someone wants to compete with them for a player it is very difficult, they are dominant in the market,'' he said. “The player they say they want is the player they get. I was interested in Kolarov when I came here but I couldn't compete with them as they went to values that I couldn't.”

Perhaps it is for that reason that the new faces at Madrid this season do not trip off the tongue quite so easily as in recent years. Mesut Oezil and Ricardo Carvalho should certainly add quality to the team but it remains to be seen if Mourinho was right to bring in Angel di Maria, the winger who shone in Argentina's impressive attack in South Africa.

A quick and technically gifted player, he has caught the eye both in his home country and with Benfica in Portugal, from where he joined Madrid this summer. Indeed, such is the player's ability and promise he was hailed by then Argentina coach Diego Maradona as the country's next superstar. It was easy to see why, as he dazzled in the group stages in South Africa, with Argentina's lightning attacking play, making them favourites in the eyes of some. Less impressive was the way he, like many of his team-mates, became anonymous as they were humbled by Germany later in the tournament.

Perhaps this is why some Madrid fans have been unimpressed with his €25million transfer from Benfica. Either way, Gonzalo Higuain, his team-mate now at both domestic and international level, has cautioned the winger's critics to keep their council. “Everyone has their opinions and that should be respected,” he said. “But we all have great confidence in him and hopefully he can shine on the field with all the qualities he possesses. He's a player who brings a presence to the wing, which is something that we lacked a little last season. And he also has speed, technique, acceleration. Di Maria can contribute much to this club. He is a great boost and allows us to play more on the wings.”

Di Maria began his career at Rosario Central in 2005 and he was quickly attracting the attention of clubs in Europe. At the age of 19 he was offered the chance to sign for Rubin Kazan in Russia but after much soul searching, he turned the opportunity down. His patience was rewarded as a move to Benfica swiftly followed, where he replaced fans' favourite Simao Sabrosa. There he quickly won the affection of the fans, while his trickery and spectacular goals made him a favourite.

Perhaps the highlight of his stay in Portugal came earlier this year, when he scored a hat-trick in a 4-0 win over Leixoes on the way to winning the Portuguese Liga title. Di Maria has also impressed on the international stage, notably at the 2008 Olympics, where his goal in the final against Nigeria sealed the gold medal for Argentina. He was also the player to spoil the party for the Republic of Ireland earlier this month. On the night when Irish captain Robbie Keane won his 100th cap for his country, it was Di Maria — albeit in an offside position — who had the honour of scoring the first international goal at the rebuilt Lansdowne Road Stadium.

For now, his ambitions are relatively modest, simply to repay the faith shown in him by Mourinho. “I will always be grateful that he said he wanted me to come to Real Madrid,” the player said.

“I will try to give everything on and off the pitch to prove he made the right decision to bring me here. With the players that are here it will be very special to play with them all.”

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