On a frantic deadline day in the offices at Camp Nou at the beginning of September, Barcelona tried to thrash out a midnight deal for Paris Saint-Germain’s Angel Di Maria.
With Neymar gone, they needed reinforcements. Ousmane Dembele had arrived from Borussia Dortmund but coach Ernesto Valverde wanted more in attack. Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho was the player they really desired, but he was unattainable.
Di Maria was a divisive second choice to the Liverpool playmaker. In his favour was his relationship with important members inside the Camp Nou dressing room — international teammates Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano — and his versatility and quality in attack and midfield. But against him were two things: his Real Madrid past and his PSG present. Both of those factors, many felt at the time, were reasons not to sign him.
Barca were unable to thrash out a deal anyway. PSG wanted north of €60 million and the Catalans were not prepared to go above €45m at the time.
Given the fallout which followed the club’s decision to sign Paulinho — supporters complained about the Brazilian’s age (29), price tag (€40m) and perceived failings in England with Tottenham — and the criticism which had followed the Spanish Super Cup hammering at the hands of Real Madrid, it’s probably best Barca didn’t break the bank to land the disputed Di Maria in hindsight.
Considering how well things have gone since, then, it’s odd to see them still weighing up a move for the Argentine this January.
Coutinho, as both Diario Sport and Mundo Deportivo scream at us every day, is still the club’s priority. Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil, out of contract in the summer, is a “low-cost” option, too.
But Di Maria is still lingering, with some reports suggesting Barca will go to €45m initially and are prepared to top that fee up with €15m more in add-ons in the case they don’t land their other objectives.
Since missing out on Di Maria, Barca have moved nine points clear at the top of La Liga, are safely into the Champions League round-of-16 and are unbeaten in 25 games in all competitions. The short-term stop gap they may have argued they needed back in September is no longer needed. Turning 30 in February, Di Maria is exactly that. On a business sense, it simply doesn’t represent a good investment.
That’s not the only reason it doesn’t make sense, either. Regardless of any financial and sporting merits there may be to spending so much money on a 29-year-old, Barca need to lower the average age of their squad, not increase it. Against Real Madrid last week the age of their front six read: 29, 29, 33, 29, 30, 30.
Also worth noting is the fact Di Maria wouldn’t even be able to play in the Champions League. Having already represented PSG in the competition, he’d be ineligible for Barca’s tie against Chelsea. And is he really needed to convert the nine-point lead Barca at the top of the league into the title?
But they’re not the main reasons Di Maria would not be received with open arms at Camp Nou. His Madrid past and PSG present are much more of a stick to beat him with.
Strangely, though, it’s actually his links in Paris which would perhaps upset Barcelona’s fans the most. A mini-rivalry has developed between the two clubs in recent years following a number of European meetings and tensions rocketed in the summer when Neymar moved to France for a world record €222m.
That transfer, along with the deal which is in place to sign Monaco’s Kylian Mbappe permanently next year, has left PSG needing to recoup funds to comply with UEFA’s financial fair play rules. Barca fans are not party to helping them ease their economic burden. It’s unusual the club would be willing to help out when president Josep Maria Bartomeu has been one of the most outspoken people in the world of football about PSG’s Qatari ownership — despite Barca’s links with the same country for many years.
It’s an image of Di Maria at Camp Nou which capsizes the boat, though. The image of the former Madrid player, dressed in a PSG shirt telling the Barcelona supporters to be quiet. It was in the moments after Edinson Cavani had scored earlier this year and even though Luis Enrique’s side went on to famously win 6-1 and progress in the Champions League, it’s an image which has remained with Barca supporters.
It all adds up to a hefty charge sheet and with Barca beginning the New Year in such a strong position, there’s no need to rock the boat.
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.