Angel Di Maria’s game-winning goal against Switzerland symbolized more than helping Argentina advance to the quarterfinals. It also highlighted his year long campaign of becoming a world class player.
Before the 2013-14 season started, the 26-year-old was heavily linked with several clubs in a transfer deal to leave Real Madrid so that the club could accommodate the imminent arrival of Gareth Bale. Instead, midfielder Mesut Ozil was sold to Arsenal and with new arrival Isco starting the season in scintillating form, Di Maria seemed like he was relegated to being a fringe player.
Some players would have complained and forced their way out to a team where they are deemed a priority but the 2008 Olympic gold medalist continued to work relentlessly and relish in the competition. Manager Carlo Ancelotti used formations like 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 to try to see how he could get the best out of his side especially the main attractions Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo. When Sami Khedira went down with an injury, Ancelotti settled on using the 4-3-3 while realizing that Di Maria is a versatile player that could make a major impact in a central position.
In a 4-3 La Liga loss to Barcelona on March 23, the former Benfica player led the game with seven dribbles and two assists. Following the match, his legendary boss gave him praise.
“Di Maria is comfortable in the new role. His position in the center is good for the balance of the team,” said Ancelotti.
Without Ronaldo in the Copa Del Rey final against their El Clasico enemy Barcelona, the two-time Taca da Liga winner went back to being an inverted right winger and scored a goal in their 2-1 victory. The 4-1, in extra time, Champions League victory over city rival Atletico Madrid raised Di Maria’s profile another level as he was named UEFA’s man of the match. He was extremely humble and honored by the award and expressed gratitude to his teammates and manager.
“Adrenaline, desire, endless desire… Every time I wear the shirt I’ll give everything. Whatever people say and for whatever they criticize me. I’ll never give 95% or 99%, always 100%. When you do this, you get your rewards in the end. I’ve grown a lot, thanks to Ancelotti, who has given me the opportunity to play on both sides and inside. I’ve progressed a lot as a player and a person. I also thank my teammates for supporting me through the bad times. [Ancelotti] gave me the confidence to play, to get through the headlines when everyone criticized me. He gave me confidence, he showed he believed in me and that I could give the team what it needed. I wanted to sacrifice, defend, attack, run, give everything,” said Di Maria following the Champions League final.