PETE JENSON: Angel Di Maria has walked Lionel Messi’s road to glory alongside him for 14 years… he is the PERFECT man for a final and deserves to go down as one of Argentina’s greats
- Angel Di Maria was excellent as Argentina beat France in the World Cup final
- But his fitness levels meant he could only play 64 minutes before being taken off
- Di Maria wasn’t able to influence after that but his team-mates did just enough
- He has been at Lionel Messi’s side on their quest for glory with Argentina
- They played together when Argentina won gold at the Beijing Olympics in 2008
- Messi and Di Maria finally had the chance to play together at club level last year
The first person Lionel Messi passed the World Cup to after lifting it aloft on the podium of the Lusail Stadium was Angel Di Maria – the two of them (69 years between them) have walked the road to glory together ever since winning Olympic gold in 2008.
It was Di Maria who got the winner that day 14 years ago in a 1-0 win over Nigeria from a brilliant through ball from Messi.
They had already won the Under 20 World Cup together and what they both wanted was the big one – their incredible longevity meant they have managed it well over a decade later.
Lionel Messi is lifted by Angel Di Maria during Argentina’s gold medal campaign in the 2008 Beijing Olympics (left) and after their World Cup final win over France on Sunday (right)
Di Maria celebrates his goal in Sunday’s final in trademark fashion to put Argentina 2-0 up
Di Maria was balling his eyes out through most of this epic victory – he started crying when he scored Argentina’s second – and he deserves to go down as one of the greats. Why ever were Manchester United not able to get the best out of him?
Messi was always supposed to be asking Barcelona to sign players during his time at the club and more often than not the stories were wide of the mark but it’s true that he insisted on Di Maria during his final years at the club and only Paris Saint-Germain’s refusal to sell – much less to Barça – stopped it happening.
When Messi moved to Paris he met with Di Maria in Ibiza a few weeks before, although at the time it appeared PSG would only be a Plan B, executed if Barça u-turned on the new deal they were promising.
Messi’s family have never completely settled in Paris but Messi at least has been happy close to his friend.
Di Maria was the first player Messi handed the World Cup trophy to after Argentina’s win
The pair have been partners in the Argentina side for so many years hoping for this moment
Four years ago in Russia it was Di Maria who scored a spectacular goal for his country against France but it couldn’t prevent a 4-3 defeat in the last-16. And that looked like being his, and Messi’s, last chance to win the World Cup.
On Sunday night he was the best player on the pitch for an hour as before scoring the first he tormented Jules Kounde and won the first penalty from Ousmane Dembele’s clumsy challenge.
When Lionel Scaloni took him off it coincided with the team collapsing. His manager knew that he could play for no more than an hour.
Argentina had done their best to hide how far away he was from full fitness in earlier rounds so as not to reveal clues to team selection – it was always a case of: save him for the final and then for not more than 60 minutes.
Messi and Di Maria have been on opposing club teams for the majority of their careers
The season Di Maria spent with Manchester United was one of his few career low points
Di Maria has always been the man for finals. When he left Real Madrid, Xabi Alonso tweeted: ‘We will never forget the zig-zag in extra-time in Lisbon.’
The Argentine winger had set-up Gareth Bale to put Real Madrid head in extra time in the 2014 Champions League final.
He also crossed for Cristiano Ronaldo’s late winner in 2011 when Real Madrid won the Spanish Cup final against Barcelona – Jose Mourinho’s first season at the club.
Mourinho loved him, and so did Carlo Ancelotti. The Italian coach had a problem when Bale arrived because there was not room for Di Maria, the new signing, plus Ronaldo and Karim Benzema.
But he put the never-tiring Di Maria in midfield and he adapted brilliantly, finishing with 22 assists.
Di Maria (back, centre) never had a good relationship with his boss at United, Louis van Gaal
Carlo Ancelotti (right) adored Di Maria at Real Madrid and accommodated him in midfield
He never settled at Manchester United and his wife never hid the fact that she hated his time there. An attempted burglary at their Cheshire home did not help.
There was no love lost between him and Louis van Gaal, who once hooked him before half-time against Sunderland.
The bad blood seemed to spill into this tournament with flashbacks to a 2021 interview when he had said: ‘My problem in Manchester was Van Gaal. We won a game 3-0 and I made an assist and scored a goal but the next day in training he showed me videos of the passes I had missed.’
Messi and Di Maria enjoyed their moment of World Cup glory together at the Lusail Stadium
His sometimes-anarchic road-runner style never clicked with the Dutch coach’s approach.
Time puts most people in their rightful place. It certainly did with Messi on Sunday night and much the same can be said about Di Maria.
He now has a World Cup medal to go with his Olympic gold – just the 14 years between the two and Messi always by his side.