Angel di Maria has three goals and three assists in five Premier League matches for Manchester United this season. Peter Powell / EPA
Angel di Maria has three goals and three assists in five Premier League matches for Manchester United this season. Peter Powell / EPA

For now, Manchester United and Angel di Maria ‘look a marriage made in heaven’

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The plaudits have come from all quarters, from manager, players and supporters. It feels like an entire club is experiencing the giddy sensations of falling in love with a footballer.

Manchester United last experienced it during Robin van Persie’s golden, goal-filled debut campaign, 2012/13. Yet then there was an expectation of excellence, an annual title challenge to sustain them. Then United endured their most miserable season for a quarter of a century and signed Angel di Maria.

No wonder that there is an element of wide-eyed wonder among the fans, still surprised that one of the world’s best players has traded the European champions for last year’s great underachievers.

It scarcely seems to matter at the moment that United overpaid for a player Real wanted to sell. Nor have Carlo Ancelotti’s suggestions that Di Maria left the Bernabeu for a pay rise dented his standing at Old Trafford. His relationship with United is at that pure stage where motives are not questioned. His blend of art, craft and graft is such that he fits into the truest tradition of United’s finest players. They had attitude and ability alike.

Five games after a £59.7 million (Dh352.9m) move, Di Maria looks the modern-day successor.

While colleagues were never likely to criticise, their tributes have been frequent and generous. “A great signing,” Juan Mata said of the man who replaced him as United’s record signing. Daley Blind, another of the summer newcomers said: “He’s amazing. He is an excellent player. He can score goals, make assists.” Ander Herrera said: “Angel is one of the best players in the world.”

Assistant manager Ryan Giggs, who has two decades of experience as United’s left winger, said: “He gets bums off seats and he excites me. He’s the kind of player you love to watch.”

There has been praise from Madrid, too. Even James Rodriguez, the successor who was supposed to represent a fashionable upgrade on the unglamorous galactico Di Maria, has been hailing the Argentine.

His reputation has rarely been higher. It helps that his fan club includes United’s most popular recent player. If they cannot get back Cristiano Ronaldo, perhaps the next best thing is to sign one of his favourite footballers.

For all his flicks and tricks, the Portuguese became a remarkably productive performer at Old Trafford. So, too, is the new No 7. Manager Louis van Gaal cited his tally of 22 assists, the most in Europe last season, when unveiling his most expensive addition. Di Maria has become a more regular scorer for his new employers. He goes to West Brom on Monday after his past four United games produced three goals and three assists.

He may have already won United’s goal-of-the-season competition with an astonishing scooped finish against Leicester City, revealing a rare combination of high-speed movement and delicate finish. Evidence of a current Midas touch is provided by the fact that two of Di Maria’s scuffed shots have become goal-supplying passes to teammates, whether Mata against Queens Park Rangers or Radamel Falcao versus Everton. Everything he has done has turned to goals.

Van Gaal has asked: “When you give assists and also you score goals, what can you ask more of a player?” The answer the manager has often provided is to deliver more off the ball. Di Maria’s work rate is rarely faulted but the challenge for him, and the other attacking talents, is to protect the inexperienced defence rather better.

The question if United can score more than they concede threatens to become the pivotal issue in their season. They didn’t at Leicester, where they lost 5-3, with the home side’s final two goals coming after Di Maria was, surprisingly, substituted.

For him, there is the question of what happens when United’s fixtures become tougher, when his mis-hit shots no longer turn into assists, when high-calibre opponents devote more time and manpower to halting the record-breaker.

Perhaps the Argentine, accustomed to life in Europe’s top team, will find it harder alongside lesser players and in an imbalanced team. But for now United and Di Maria look a marriage made in heaven. They are certainly in their honeymoon period.

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Cultural fiesta

What: The Al Burda Festival
When: November 14 (from 10am)
Where: Warehouse421,  Abu Dhabi
The Al Burda Festival is a celebration of Islamic art and culture, featuring talks, performances and exhibitions. Organised by the Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development, this one-day event opens with a session on the future of Islamic art. With this in mind, it is followed by a number of workshops and “masterclass” sessions in everything from calligraphy and typography to geometry and the origins of Islamic design. There will also be discussions on subjects including ‘Who is the Audience for Islamic Art?’ and ‘New Markets for Islamic Design.’ A live performance from Kuwaiti guitarist Yousif Yaseen should be one of the highlights of the day. 

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Started: December 2016

Founder: Eisa Alsubousi

Based: Abu Dhabi

Sector: Luxury leather goods

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1998: Amazon acquires IMDb, its first major acquisition. It also starts selling CDs and DVDs

2000: Amazon Marketplace opens, allowing people to sell items on the website

2002: Amazon forms what would become Amazon Web Services, opening the platform to all developers. The cloud unit would follow in 2006

2003: Amazon turns in an annual profit of $75 million, the first time it ended a year in the black

2005: Amazon Prime is introduced, its first-ever subscription service that offered US customers free two-day shipping for $79 a year

2006: Amazon Unbox is unveiled, the company's video service that would later morph into Amazon Instant Video and, ultimately, Amazon Video

2007: Amazon's first hardware product, the Kindle e-reader, is introduced; the Fire TV and Fire Phone would come in 2014. Grocery service Amazon Fresh is also started

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Etihad Airways flies from Abu Dhabi to Kuala Lumpur, from about Dh3,600. Air Asia currently flies from Kuala Lumpur to Terengganu, with Berjaya Hotels & Resorts planning to launch direct chartered flights to Redang Island in the near future. Rooms at The Taaras Beach and Spa Resort start from 680RM (Dh597).


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