Louis van Gaal’s participation in the World Cup is over. He steered the Netherlands to third place in the tournament with a comfortable win over the shellshocked hosts, and in doing so, exceeding the expectations of most. Van Gaal now turns his attentions to his new job, that of boss at Manchester United, and the challenges he faces are already starting to become clear.
Meanwhile, all eyes remain on Rio de Janeiro tonight as Argentina bid to win their third World Cup, with La Albiceleste going into the game with doubts over the fitness of one of their key performers – Angel Di Maria. The winger looks likely to miss the final, but this hasn’t done anything to halt speculation about his future. The 26-year-old seems set to leave Real Madrid and looked set to join Manchester United in a £150,000 per week deal, until Paris Saint-Germain – champions of France and Champions League contenders for next season – emerged as rivals for his signature.
The news will come as a blow to Van Gaal, who is now having to deal with the fallout from a forgettable season at Old Trafford. Di Maria has been one of Argentina’s most exciting performers at this tournament and will be a big loss if he’s unfit for the final.
Di Maria would be an equally big miss for United as they look to bolster their attacking options. The left-footed winger played a pivotal role in Real Madrid’s season and was declared man of the match in their victorious Champions League final performance last season. He confounded many to keep his place at the Bernabeu despite the arrival of Gareth Bale and he boasts an impressive goalscoring record at international level, so capturing his signature would be a huge statement of intent as United bid to return to the summit of the Premier League.
Van Gaal is also reported to be working on several other high profile signings including Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Marco Reus, but it would be the capture of Di Maria that would arguably send the biggest message. Before straining his thigh in the quarter-final win against Belgium, Di Maria had turned in another influential performance, setting up Gonzalo Higuian’s deciding goal, following key contributions in the earlier rounds that included a late winner against Switzerland.
Whilst Lionel Messi will continue to be lauded as Argentina’s most gifted player, there can be no denying the importance of Di Maria. Head Coach Alejandro Sabella has labelled him “vital” whilst team-mate Higuain has called him a “key player”.
“We want him fit as we know what he does for this team,” Higuain said of his former Madrid team-mate in the build-up to the final.
A World Cup final is the biggest game a professional footballer could wish to be involved in, but if he does miss out with injury, Di Maria will still have a career defining question to deal with. Van Gaal and the million of Manchester United supporters around the world will hope that the answer he comes up with is to sign for the Red Devils.