Belfast Telegraph

Di Maria: United have got no place to hide in derby

Defeat is not an option for Di Maria as Argentine prepares to make derby debut

By Tim Rich

The man who was once transferred for 35 footballs is coaching kids for whom that would seem quite a sizeable fee.

Angel Di Maria was an appropriate choice for Manchester United to send to Manchester College. It is based in Ardwick, one of the city's tougher suburbs, and was staging an event called Premier League Kicks, designed to promote football among "young people from challenging communities".

Having grown up in the La Ceramica district of Rosario - all steelworks, coal-workings and desperate poverty - the Premier League's most expensive footballer would not have found Ardwick in the least challenging.

He would, however, recognise the mood of the city as the derby approached.

Di Maria's first club was Rosario Central, who bought out his contract with La Ceramica's local team, Torilo, for the 35 footballs.

Their derby was with Newell's Old Boys, who produced Rosario's trophies and their most famous football exports from Gabriel Batistuta to Lionel Messi.

Central was the bigger club in terms of history and the size of its stadium.

"Derbies can be a nightmare in Argentina," Di Maria said.

"If you lost, it would be a case of not being able to go out - not just for two or three days but two or three weeks - until you got it out of your system.

"Everyone would really suffer if you lost and you didn't want to show your faces to the fans."

Di Maria was able to show his face quite a lot in Madrid. Cristiano Ronaldo turned in his cross against Barcelona to win Real the Copa Del Rey in 2011 and while Jose Mourinho ruled the Bernabeu, his place in the side and the fans' affections was secure.

One of the reasons Old Trafford seemed an attractive venue, even without Champions League football, was that this sense of security left with Mourinho.

"As a player you are always going to go somewhere if the club really wants to sign you and show that willingness by putting that amount of money on the table. I think the figure was 75m euros," he said.

"It would be hard for any club to turn that down, even Real Madrid. The kind of interest Manchester United showed is also hard to turn down."

He added that Louis van Gaal might be to him what Mourinho was at the Bernabeu.

"It was Van Gaal who wanted to bring me here. He had that confidence in me and you always get a new input with a new manager."

There is quite an Argentine football colony in Manchester, although Di Maria said the five who may play in tomorrow's derby had not quite got round to organising a night out.

"But," he said, "there are no friendships on the pitch."

That is something his manager is quite keen to address. Van Gaal noted that when Ryan Giggs gave his presentation of Manchester City's strengths and weaknesses, his assistant was more than usually animated.

"The derby is between city rivals and he knows it - as a player and now as the assistant manager," said Van Gaal.

"But we don't have to exaggerate this feeling because it is football and you have to play a game - not of emotion but of tactics.

"It is that we are preparing for. He has transferred the emotion to the team and I have transferred the idea of how we have to play."

Those words would be aimed at Wayne Rooney more than anyone. Van Gaal loves Rooney, his attitude to training, his spirit in the dressing room and the fact he has scored more goals in Manchester derbies than any other United player.

And yet Rooney is just returning from suspension and Van Gaal cannot afford another red card.

"I emphasise tactics over emotion because it will be an emotional game. We don't want a red card because 11 versus 10 becomes very difficult.

"That has been a key part of our preparation. We have to play like a team and, if we do that, we have a bigger chance to win."

Van Gaal pointed out that "this is not the greatest moment for Manchester City" and following Robin van Persie's (pictured) stoppage-time equaliser against Chelsea last Sunday, the kind that the old United teams used to score, there is a feeling at Old Trafford that 18 months after Sir Alex Ferguson's departure, the tide is beginning to turn for them.

"We have not had the luck that we should have had but twice in a row we have scored in the last minute when we were behind," said Van Gaal.

"What does that tell you about the spirit of this team? It is unbelievable and it will grow and develop like the grass on those training pitches.

"But first, we need a good result against Manchester City."

Premier League: Man City v Man United, Etihad Stadium, Sunday, 1.30pm (Sky Sports 1)

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