Friday, 29 August 2014

Why Di Maria’s Fee Is All About Timing

The problem with the English transfer window remaining open three weeks after the season starts is that clubs seem to begin their campaigns in a holding pattern.  Teams are stuck in a kind of limbo as journalists and fans speculate about that one last minute player who can transform their club’s fortunes.
That this is rarely successful isn’t the point but it’s tough to think of one recent example where a last minute big money addition has made that much of an impact.  Mesut Ozil maybe? 
It remains far more common to work the other way.  A glance at the highest fees ever paid by a British club will shortly have Di Maria placed just above Fernando Torres and Andy Carroll, hardly the most auspicious of company.
That Di Maria is a fantastic player isn’t really up for debate.  For their reported £60 million Man Utd are getting someone who scored 36 goals and provided 72 assists in 190 games for Real.  Last season despite being moved further back into midfield to make way for Gareth Bale he was still the top assist provider in Spain.
Why then does this seem like a panic buy?  Partly it’s the fee, the general rule of thumb is that if PSG are pulling out of negotiations then you’re probably overpaying.  What hasn’t helped is the sense that Man Utd have pushed for this deal so hard because of their first two non-performances.
Van Gaal himself admitted after the disappointing 1-1 with Sunderland that his team had most let themselves down with their lack of midfield invention.  Di Maria will undoubtedly help with this.  Fixing it by himself is something else.
Also, given that this isn’t a new problem (it’s been evident since some time before Ferguson left) surely something could have been done to remedy it earlier?
Chelsea had two glaring problems with their team last year, a lack of goals from central midfield and not being able to call on a reliable central striker.  They signed Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa early and both are firing and already look settled.
Last season Man City had a plan, signed players early and won the league.  Man Utd ended the transfer window by enduring the disappointment of failing to land Ander Herrera and actually signing Marouane Fellaini.  This is a simplification of course but when you buy as much as who you buy is certainly a factor in their success.
In Germany business is normally done amicably (Dortmund and Bayern aside) and early.  When your club is being run as frugally as possible this is how it works.  Transfer deadline day in Germany now consists of watching the chaos unfolding in England with amazement.
Man Utd fans may well blame Van Gaal not being available until after the World Cup for the delay and there’d be some truth in this.  The two deals concluded early (for Luke Shaw and Herrera) were originally lined up by David Moyes.  Given that the problem was as bad last season under a different manager surely the blame has to lie with Vice-Chairman Ed Woodward?
There’s a sense that for whatever reason Woodward can’t get deals done.  Last year’s window ended with the club fighting the impression that they were panic buying.  This one has done little to alter that impression.

The problem with everything to do with Di Maria’s arrival is that it sums up what Man Utd are being forced to do to catch up on past mistakes.  He may well end up being a massive success (although you could argue they’re still two top class midfielders short).  The timing of it hasn’t helped anyone make that possible.

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