Why Angel di Maria’s move to PSG is a wake up call for Manchester United & Europe

In what will almost certainly be the most drawn out summer transfer window saga involving a Ligue 1 club, this week PSG made the signing of Argentinian attacking midfielder Angel di Maria official.

Di Maria joins on a four year contract, a deal that was masterminded by super agent Jorge Mendes, for a fee believed to be worth between €63m and €68m. The player will wear the number 11 shirt for his new side, but this piece is not about listing the realities of one of the biggest deals of the summer transfer window.

Instead, it is an attempt to explain the reasoning behind Angel di Maria’s decision to quit such a massive club in the form of Manchester United, just 12 months after joining them from Real Madrid for arguably Europe’s newest elite force, Paris Saint Germain. The conclusions made in this piece are based in part on simple reasoning but primarily on the facts surrounding Angel di Maria’s situation over the course of the last 12 months.

We would be arrogant to suggest that we fully understand why Angel di Maria apparently jumped Louis van Gaal’s ship to join Laurent Blanc’s PSG, only the Argentinian international can give you his honest answer on the matter, but we can endeavour to explain the decision-making of various parties involved in some way in shaping Di Maria’s future. In attempting to do so, we want to dispel certain myths and offer an interpretation of the changing nature of the landscape of European football.

The story actually begun before Angel di Maria put pen to paper with Manchester United. The former Real Madrid man officially joined the Red Devils on the 26th August 2014. The difficult reality that Manchester United fans will not want to face is that, already last season, Di Maria preferred PSG to Manchester United. In fact, negotiations between PSG President Nasser Al Khelaifi and his Real Madrid counterpart Florentino Perez are believed to have started as early as May 2014 about a possible transfer. 

Di Maria confirmed that Les Parisiens’ interest in his services stemmed further back than this summer in his unveiling press conference last night:

“I am very happy to be here at PSG, it has been several years that this club has tried to sign me.”

The major stumbling block last summer, which PSG sadly failed to get around, were the restrictions imposed upon them by Financial Fair Play. Following their expensive purchase of David Luiz, which was as impulsive behind closed doors as it appeared to the rest of the world, meant that PSG would have exceeded the €60m spending cap imposed on them by FFP regulations if they had bought Di Maria outright in addition last summer.

While the signing of David Luiz greatly pleased PSG’s South American contingent, but most specifically club captain Thiago Silva (a man who is regularly called in by Nasser Al Khelaifi to discuss transfer policy), this piece of business forced PSG to attempt to negotiate a loan with an obligatory option to buy deal with Real Madrid for the services of Angel di Maria. 

Real Madrid themselves had spent excessively during the summer of 2014 on James Rodriguez in particular and it was only natural that the idea of a straight sale of Angel di Maria to another side was a more financially attractive prospect. The important thing to understand for this initial backstory is that, quite clearly, from Di Maria’s perspective, he had been unsuccessful in joining his choice destination during last summer. He went on to confirm as much in an interview with French football TV show Téléfoot in November 2014, a programme that airs weekly on Sunday mornings on TF1: 

“The reason why I didn’t move to PSG was because of financial reasons. PSG could not buy players, and that was the problem. It could have been a great experience to play for PSG… I have no regrets about leaving Real Madrid, I won everything there. I’m still young, a lot can happen in the future. I’m not sure where I will end up.”

Now unless Di Maria had decided only three months into his career at Manchester United that it was necessary for him to keep his options open, it seems that on his own accord Di Maria is willing to admit in an interview that he wished to join PSG first,  Manchester United second. But why was that the case? Money? Lifestyle? Family reasons? Or, if we dare to entertain the thought for a second, are PSG perhaps a bigger continental force than Manchester United at present?

The answer is invariably highly complex and quite clearly a mixture of some of the possible reasons given above.

Let us first deal with the issue of money. Having sifted through all the major newspaper reports on Di Maria’s contract with Manchester United when the deal was announced, calculations about how much the Argentinian was earning vary from between £200,000 a week to £280,000 a week. In the interest of fairness, we will take a happy medium and adjudge Di Maria’s wage to have been around £240,000 a week (although in reality with the relevant bonuses he would have been earning more than the £280,000 a week figure). That puts Angel di Maria on £12.5m a year gross with his now former Manchester United contract.

Now one of the key reasons for why it took so much longer than expected for Angel di Maria’s move to PSG to have gone through this summer was because of protracted contract negotiations with a typically hard-bargining Jorge Mendes orchestrating proceedings. We are going to use figures that we have collated from one of the most accurate French football transfer gurus in the business and part time collaborator with Get French Football News, RMC’s Mohamed Bouhafsi, to determine how much Di Maria will earn with his PSG contract. Mendes wanted PSG to pay his client €12.5m a year net, PSG were offering €10m a year net and a compromise is believed to have been reached at around €11m a year net. The bottom line is that while the financials are healthy for Di Maria, they are not noticeably better than his wage packet at Manchester United.

While the slight salary increase might have played a role in Angel di Maria’s decision-making, such small margins are unlikely to have made a decisive difference. 

Let’s move on to lifestyle and family reasons. What football fans across the globe sometimes forget is that footballers are human beings too. Now we can sit here all day and debate the reasoning behind becoming a footballer and the subsequent sacrifices that you have to be prepared to make, but the reason why this is an important point to make in Di Maria’s case is that the personal aspects in his decision-making were crucial in his desire to join PSG before he signed the dotted line with Manchester United last summer. 

Footballers, much more so than in other professions, are moving around constantly. If they are not frequently making transfer moves to different clubs, then they are competing in a different city every week and possibly another country every second week. There are several obvious human reasons, but specifically relating to every human being’s fundamental desire to be happy and for his loved ones to be comfortable, which in the specific case of Di Maria, make PSG a far better choice of destination than Manchester United.

Money aside, Angel di Maria’s family have a much better chance of being happy in Paris than in Manchester. Everybody in life needs a support system and a community, a set of individuals where one can truly be themselves around without any feeling of uncomfortableness. 

Di Maria and his family arrived in Manchester without being able to speak a word of English, and with no pre-existing Argentinian/Spanish-speaking community to fall back on. Argentinian Marcos Rojo and Colombian Falcao joined Manchester United at the same time as Di Maria, but, from a family point of view, were helpless because they knew Manchester just as well as Di Maria’s family did. Sure Juan Mata and David de Gea might have been able to do their best, but with Les Parisiens di Maria could play along some of his closest football friends.

At PSG on the other hand, already in 2014, there was already an established contingent of South Americans whose families spend vast amounts of their downtime together. Angel di Maria admitted in his unveiling press conference that Ezequiel “El Pocho” Lavezzi played a big role in his eventual decision to join PSG:

“One of the factors that made me come here was my friendship with him (Lavezzi).”

Javier Pastore and Ezequiel Lavezzi are two individuals that Angel di Maria has known for a long time, be it at international level, or even with El Pocho at youth international level with Argentina. But it goes beyond simply the role of these two gentlemen. PSG have the most talented collection of South American footballers out of any major European club in the world. It is the fundamental reason why none of them have jumped ship despite playing for as long as three or even four years (Pastore) in what is apparently considered as a weaker European league.

Yes, the money plays a role, but it is simply flawed to argue that Javier Pastore ( pursued by Real Madrid), Edinson Cavani (pursued by Manchester United) and Thiago Silva (pursued by Barcelona) could not earn the same amount of money or more in a supposedly more competitive league.

A large number of Manchester United fans have sought to explain away Angel di Maria’s departure to PSG as simply the decision of a “bottler” someone who could not be bothered to try his hardest and rub shoulders with top sides in the supposed best league of the world, the Premier League. This viewpoint quite clearly takes the player’s family situation into no consideration, but by brandishing this move in such a way, one is also suggesting that Edinson Cavani, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Lucas Moura, Marquinhos and others lack the competitive drive to fight in the Premier League and that they are just lazy, because all four of those individuals have had chances to join a Premier League club in recent seasons.

The Angel di Maria to PSG process was drawn out and the French media was attacked severely and dismissed as “rubbish” and other expletives by Manchester United fans through social media when details of the move began to filter through. The whole process showed an arrogance of English football which has been much talked about in the past, but it also showed an ignorance for the changing continental football landscape that has emerged in recent years.

During the last three campaigns in the Champions League, PSG have been knocked out by Barcelona, Chelsea and Barcelona, each time during the Quarter Final stage. Manchester United were not in the Champions League last season, the season before that they were knocked out by Bayern Munich in the Quarter Finals and the year before that in they fell in the Round of 16 after a poor Group Stage forced them to face Real Madrid.

In terms of a “form guide” so to speak, Angel di Maria has every right to assume that he is more likely to win the Champions League with PSG than with Manchester United. PSG’s project has not reached a ceiling, the ceiling is Champions League domination, something they have arguably been closer and closer to as the seasons have progressed. When Angel di Maria joined, Manchester United could not even offer the player Champions League football.

While we cannot claim to have any knowledge of Angel di Maria’s relationship with Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, if their relationship had become difficult, then it only adds fuel to the fire. A top footballer typically has around 12 years at the highest level. Why would Di Maria want to spend another season at a club where he has a disconnect with the manager, where his family is inherently unhappy when he can join a club that can prove that they are going in the right direction through results on paper, where an established community of his best friends is pre-existing, in a city that is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in the world, under a manager who has personally targeted the player as a potential signing for two years, under a president who has been relentless in his efforts to sign him. 

Now, all that said, some might still argue that this move is still an easy way out for Angel di Maria. But who is more likely to win the Champions League this season, PSG or Manchester United? Which squad collectively has greater talent? Which project is more exciting? Which side plays more attractive football? Nobody is suggesting that you have to believe that PSG dominates the majority of the answers of the questions that have just been asked, but it would be frankly insolent to suggest that it is anything other than at least a dead heat at present. Oh, and please don’t talk about “history”, because that is exactly what history is, the past. Di Maria to PSG, a life choice, a move away from the Premier League, but not out of laziness, but because he always preferred PSG in the first place and has every right to, on every level of thinking.

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