Angel Di Maria has defied the doubters to prosper under the faith of Carlo Ancelotti
It was a fantastic strike. The ball popped out to him via a corner and he struck it beautifully on the bounce to send it whistling through the array of bodies into the bottom corner from 25 yards out. There was no whistling, no accusations of obscene gestures and, for the moment at least, no doubts about his future at the club.
For Ángel Di Maria it was a yet another response to the critics and doubters who have been so prominent in the Spanish Capital this season. Rumours to premier league clubs, the arrival of Gareth Bale and controversy with the fans have meant Di Maria hasn’t had it easy this season. But helped by the faith given to him by his new manager Carlo Ancelotti, Di Maria has continued to show his worth and bit by bit is doing his best to quell the rumours and speculations.
His long range strike, Madrid’s fourth of their five-nil rout of Real Betis, was Di Maria’s seventh in all competitions this season, and came after what was his ninth assist earlier in the day. He’s already almost equaled his goals and assists tally for the league and Europe for last season, in Mid January, despite this being a season where his starting spot became under more question after the purchase of Gareth Bale.
During Bale’s initial injury plagued start Di Maria was particularly profitable in the Champions League, and has so far netted three goals and five assists in just four starts in the competition. His performance against Copenhagen was an astonishing display of pace skill, featuring a truly astonishing rabona cross to Cristiano Ronaldo. What more, even after Bale’s return Ancelotti has regularly opted to play Di Maria in a midfield three behind the attacking trio of a 4-3-3, instead of the alternative of playing Isco in the hole of a 4-2-3-1.
Ancelotti’s faith in the Argentine’s ability has gone beyond simply finding a way to feature him in a game against Real Betis, however. After the summer signings of Isco and Bale something had to give, both financially and to keep a reasonable amount of options for a limited number of spaces. Many in the media predicted Di Maria to be the sacrifice, but astonishingly Ancelotti chose to part company with Mesut Özil instead. Many questioned the decision but Di Maria has gone someway towards proving the belief in him was well directed.
Away from the dressing room, Di Maria has not had such assured signs of confidence directed his away, however. The Argentine has had to deal with constant transfer speculation, firstly rumours to Arsenal in the summer and more recently further rumours to Arsenal and talk that he could be on his way to Old Trafford. Last week speculation even propped up that he could be moving to Galatasaray.
In truth, he could be forgiven for trying to force a move. He’d be all but a guaranteed starter at all of those clubs, as opposed to having to compete with Bale, Ronaldo, Isco and co at Madrid. And in a World Cup year, where he has to fight with the likes of Messi, Higuain, Lavezzi, Augero, Tevez and Lemella for a starting birth, those extra minutes which could’ve been gained away from the Bernabeu could be pivotal. He’s not exactly always been made to feel welcome this year either, with the fans and media seeming to be on a crusade to drive him away from the club.
But that’s what has made this season from Di Maria so admirable. There was an easy way out, the one which Özil took, but he chose to stick it out at Madrid and show he’s good enough. He may never get the positive headlines that the Ballon D’or winner (Ronaldo) the world’s most expensive footballer (Bale) or Spain’s next big thing (Isco) will get, but he continues to be a vital cog in the Madrid system. The critics and doubters will never truly derive from him, but bit by bit he’s doing what he can silence them. Lurking in the shadows, sliding and gliding into the box like a silent assassin.
For now at least, before the next blown up on field gesture or transfer rumour, he deserves some positive limelight.