LONDON: Angel Di Maria became a Manchester United player for £60m just as his new club suffered the latest humiliation in the short testing reign of Louis Van Gaal.
The Dutchman saw his Premier League giants crash 4-0 away to MK Dons in Milton Keynes in the League Cup as Di Maria was relaxing after the formality of a medical and sealing his move from European champions Real Madrid.
Usually, at this stage of term, United would have been preparing for a Champions League adventure. Now they have only the Premier League and the FA Cup in which to flex their convalescent muscles.
Di Maria’s fee – up to £66m with performance additions – surpassed the British record purchase fee of £50m which Chelsea paid Liverpool for Fernando Torres in 2011. The arrival of the Argentinian, due to make his debut at Burnley on Saturday, took United’s spending to a British summer record of £135m.
But the transfer was overshadowed by events in the new town renowned for the concrete cows placed strategically in what was once countryside some 50 miles north of London.
Will Grigg and Arsenal youth product Benik Afobe both scored twice as United conceded four goals in the League Cup against lower league opposition for the first time. This was also the first time since 1995 that they had been knocked out in the second round.
At least last season, under David Moyes, United reached the League Cup semi-finals. This time they succumbed to a third division club whose entire side cost less than Wayne Rooney earns in a week and whose annual wage bill of £3m is around one-twentieth of the Di Maria fee.
Goalkeeper David De Gea was the only retained starter from Sunday but United were poor even allowing for the changes and early exit of Shinji Kagawa with concussion. Not until the 72nd minute did they put a shot on target.
Van Gaal talked afterwards of what went wrong. “This is my analysis,” he said as if he were a neutral journalist rather than the man with responsibility both for what happened on the pitch and putting it right.
For United’s three-man defence to be exposed by the modest Premier League attacks of Swansea and Sunderland was one thing; to be ripped apart by a team two divisions below was something else.
Van Gaal said: “When you start as a manager and start with a loss then a draw and then lose a cup match it’s disappointing and dfficult for the fans to believe in the philosophy of Louis Van Gaal. But I am here to build up a new team and a new team is not built in one month. The process needs time.”
Where Di Maria fits into Van Gaal’s brighter future is not clear. Van Gaal compared his arrival with that of Arjen Robben in the manager’s early days in Munich which suggests a compromise with the United tradition of raiding wingers who stay wide.
Van Gaal would not speculate further on how he will use Di Maria who has a five-season contract worth £200,000-a-year. He preferred to regret the difficulty of a tough physical test amid an injury crisis and so soon after Sunday’s league match.
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