Angel Di Maria's arrival at Old Trafford from Real Madrid is a defining purchase in several ways. It is a an assertion of Manchester United's financial muscle. It is a marquee signing that many will consider befitting a club of this status. It gives Louis van Gaal a player of extraordinary trickery, stamina and acceleration. And, at long last, it shows us what Ed Woodward meant weeks ago when he asked the world to "watch this space."
Of everyone at Old Trafford, Woodward would have been under the most pressure to get this deal done. He had assured supporters that United could break the world transfer record if necessary; the same supporters who watched as, much like last summer, the club closed impressive commercial deal after impressive commercial deal while failing to build on the very encouraging acquisitions of Ander Herrera and Marcos Rojo.
Di Maria is an outstanding buy by any measure. He has been one of the leading assist providers in La Liga and the UEFA Champions League over the past few years. He was the man of the match in last season's Champions League final. He represents, all told, an exciting gambit in Manchester United's attempt to claw themselves back into an increasingly competitive Premier League top four.
Of course, such a player comes at a considerable price; once the dust has settled, there may be questions as to why he cost quite so much. Despite apparent interest from Paris Saint-Germain, this was no bidding war and so Manchester United ended up paying a rumoured 75 million euros for an uncontested signing. This is unfortunately what happens when business is left so late in the transfer window and is conducted so publicly.
Despite all that, there are numerous positives to this move. Di Maria is gifted and tactically astute enough to fit easily into any system that van Gaal wishes to use. He can operate either side of the central striker in a 4-3-3. He can play as a wing-back or as one of the three central midfielders in a 3-5-2. And of course, he is devastating when deployed as a conventional winger in a 4-4-2. The question of whether he will be comfortable wearing the club's famed No. 7 shirt is barely worth mentioning. Given his talent and achievements, it should rest lightly on his shoulders.
There is an argument, however, that there is no natural fit for Di Maria in this team given the array of gifted attackers at the club. After all, they already have four No. 10s. Yet the stronger argument is that if a player of Di Maria's quality becomes available, then you buy him -- just as Arsenal bought Mesut Ozil last season -- and work out the details later. This is someone who would either improve or maintain the excellence of any team in the world to which he was added. There are very few players in any generation who can say that, and given that he is still only 26, Manchester United can expect about four more years of peak performance from him.
ALL-TIME HIGHEST TRANSFER FEES
1) £85m Gareth Bale -- Tottenham to Real Madrid, Sept. 2013
2) £80m Cristiano Ronaldo -- Man Utd to R Madrid, June 2009
3) £75m Luis Suarez -- Liverpool to Barcelona, July 2014
4) £71m James Rodriguez -- Monaco to Real Madrid, July 2014
5) £59.7m Angel Di Maria -- R Madrid to Man Utd, August 2014
6) £56m Kaka -- AC Milan to Real Madrid, June 2009
It is even arguable that though Di Maria does not address Manchester United's greatest problem -- their central midfield -- he is so good as an attacking outlet that he will take a great deal of defensive pressure off them. This must not be the last of the reinforcements, though. Manchester United still need two more central midfielders and probably one more centre-back to join new arrival Marcos Rojo. That will give van Gaal enough to work with, and will cap an extraordinary summer of spending for the club -- the unfortunate legacy of having let the squad fall into decline for successive seasons.
What may look like profligacy now will be prudent business if the new signings perform, and in Di Maria, the club may just have made one of their shrewdest gambles yet.