Complete the sequence: Angel di Maria, Fernando Torres, Andy Carroll, Robinho, Andrei Shevchenko, “X”.
For those who don’t instantly recognise what connects the aforementioned soccer players — make a note of the eventual answer, because it’s a nailed on pub quiz question – it’s a chronologically descending list of the men signed by English clubs that have broken the British transfer record.
And while the whole index is rife with talented individuals that have won a plethora of honours, the recent crop of players on it didn’t really ever showcase their best form after making that career-defining switch.
Of course, we can reserve judgement on the very latest record breaker, as a £59.7 million premium saw Di Maria move from Real Madrid to Manchester United. He’s set to make his debut for Louis van Gaal’s side at Burnley this weekend.
Di Maria is a majestically vibrant midfielder, one that’s shone on the biggest stages in the game and has the capabilities to light up the Premier League with his engrossing playing style. He’s a talent that would improve the overwhelming majority of teams on the planet and United deserve enormous credit for convincing him to swap the Bernabeu for Old Trafford.
But when you look at those players that precede the Argentinian in breaking the British transfer record, should Red Devils supporters be just a little concerned? In the modern game, is there something unavoidably detrimental to a player once they’ve participated in such a massive money-spinning move?
Torres, Carroll, Robinho and Shevchenko failed to reach a level anywhere near their best once they’d made their respective transfers. Their cumulative record breaking fees equate to circa £150 million and the clubs that made those purchases were treated to a measly total of 49 Premier League goals.
In truth, it’s difficult to pinpoint something uniform as a reason for all those transfers going pear-shaped. The circumstances, foundations and motives that yielded each of those deals were varied, after all.
But there are a few facets that accompany the honour of being the most expensive player in the history of British football that di Maria should be wary of. And we’ve already bore witness to some of them long before he signed on the dotted line at Old Trafford.
The hyperbole that’s manifested following the former Benfica man’s move has been almost unquantifiable. Everyone with a slither of interest in the sport is talking about it, and the immersive, non-stop nature of the modern game dictates that any player that moves for such a vast amount of money would receive similarly unyielding focus.
But with that spotlight and anticipation comes a pressure to deliver, and deliver quickly. The game moves at such a ferocious pace these days, so much so, that when a player costs a enormous amount, owners, managers and fans want an instant impact. Subsequently it doesn’t take much time for a new signing to be branded a flop if they toil in their opening matches.
Some players can recover from a less than impactful start. Dennis Bergkamp – another British transfer record – failed to make much of an impact in the early stages of his Arsenal career. But eventually his mental strength showed, his quality shone through and he’s now regarded as one of the best strikers to have ever graced the English game.
For more recent examples, see big money Serie A imports Stevan Jovetic and Erik Lamela, two players who were injured for long spells throughout the 2013/14 campaign meaning they hardly featured, and yet, they were still branded as a waste of money by some detractors. In the early stages of this season, the initial indications are that both have adapted and will flourish second time round.
Not every player has the mentality to help facilitate such a change in fortune though, something that’s not a criticism by any means, simply human nature. After failing to find the net in his first 13 games for Chelsea, Torres resembled a player bereft of confidence and crippled by the weight of his £50 million fee. He’s never been the same player since.
And make no mistake, the sizeable fee can be a significant factor too. Player’s will claim it’s something that matters little to them, but it must play on their minds after every misplaced pass, every mistimed tackle and every missed shot. A player that cost so much shouldn’t be making such elementary mistakes, should they?
The £59.7 million transfer fee will always be associated with di Maria, and before he’s even kicked a ball, so much is expected of United’s new No. 7. The club have spent £173 million in 2014 on bolstering their creaking squad, but the Argentinean is the man that’ll be expected to be the main catalyst for a Red Devils renaissance.
It represents an exciting and refreshing test for the player, but these kinds of challenges are not something that have typically stirred previous record breakers. Indeed, after achieving honours aplenty throughout their careers, some players just don’t have the same hunger to re-achieve at the pinnacle of the game following a move. Especially with an inflated weekly wage landing in their bank accounts.
For the 26-year-old, a player that’s won numerous honours with both Benfica and Real Madrid—he was named man of the match in Los Blancos’ tenth European Cup triumph last season—will that hunger be there? Will he be willing to adapt his game to achieve in the Premier League and spearhead United’s charge back towards the peak of the English game?
Van Gaal seems to think so, with the Dutchman pointing to di Maria’s team ethic, energy and application as some of the key facets that make him such a fine man to have in the squad. Couple that mentality with his undeniable ability and United should have some player on their hands.
But the same has been said of many of the names previously mentioned, and although there’s absolutely nothing to indicate that di Maria’s stock will plummet in a manner comparable to the ill-fated aforementioned foursome, he’ll need to steer clear of the same pitfalls that turned their dream moves into nightmares.
Encouragingly for Manchester United supporters, the last British transfer record signing to fully justify his transfer fee—and the man who precedes the five players in our earlier list—was Rio Ferdinand. If di Maria can help spark a period anywhere near as prosperous as the one their legendary defender enjoyed, then those of a red persuasion will be very happy indeed.