London - Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone has raised eyebrows by claiming that Angel Di Maria is city rivals Real’s best player, above the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.
Simeone watched from the sidelines as his Atletico side held their Madrid rivals to a 1-1 draw in the Spanish Super Cup first leg on Tuesday night.
Di Maria’s late introduction from the bench changed the game, with the Argentina winger - a target for Manchester United - setting up an the opening goal for James Rodriguez.
Atletico levelled the tie through Raul Garcia with just two minutes remaining.
Simeone hailed Di Maria’s impact after the game and insisted it did not surprise him that his compatriot was so effective.
“The game changed with Di Maria,” Simeone said. “It’s logical - he’s the best player they have.”
When pressed on whether Di Maria deserved to be singled out above Real’s so-called galacticos - Ronaldo, Bale and Rodriguez chief among them - Simeone insisted: “He’s the player most likely to create openings in the opposition half.”
It seems the Atletico manager has a point, as his fellow Argentine - while well behind Ronaldo and Bale in terms of goals scored - created the most last season, 22, compared with 11 made by the Portuguese and 16 by the Welshman.
Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti would seem to disagree with Simeone, having started the game with Di Maria on the bench.
But Louis van Gaal is desperate to add Di Maria to his paper-thin squad at Old Trafford following United’s opening-day Premier League defeat at home against Swansea.
United are prepared to commit as much as £100 million to their pursuit of Di Maria.
Van Gaal needs world-class additions and has told executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward to do all he can to bring the 26-year-old winger to the club.
It is understood United have told Di Maria that, with performance-based incentives, they will pay him around £200 000 a week.
Over a five-year deal that would take the club’s investment to £100m when a transfer fee of around £50m is included.
* Manchester United have agreed a deal for Sporting Lisbon’s Argentine international defender Marcos Rojo with Nani heading in the other direction, the Portuguese club announced on Wednesday.
Sporting said in a statement that the two clubs had agreed a transfer fee of e20m with Nani returning to his former team on a season-long loan as part of the deal.
United followed suit later with a brief statement confirming the move: “Manchester United is delighted to announce it has reached an agreement with Sporting Lisbon to sign defender Marcos Rojo, subject to a medical and agreeing personal terms.”
“A further announcement will be made when the process is complete.”
The 24-year-old Rojo, who can play in both central defence and at left-back, was one of Argentina’s standout performers at the World Cup in Brazil where he helped his country reach the final before losing to Germany.
He spent the past two seasons at Sporting having joined from Spartak Moscow in July 2012.
The 27-year-old Nani returns to Portugal seven years after leaving Sporting for Old Trafford.
Daily Mail and Sapa-AFP