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Aug 27, 2014

Believe it or not, Real Madrid face a challenge without Angel Di Maria

Real Madrid defender Marcelo discusses Angel Di Maria's move to Manchester United and the void he will leave behind at Real Madrid.

The situations surrounding the departures of Angel di Maria and Claude Makelele from Real Madrid may have been formed from differing scenarios but one constant remained: president Florentino Perez did not want them playing for his football club.

Comparisons have recently been made between the two sales as Madrid fans lament what they believe to be a big mistake in letting go of a player who was arguably their best when it mattered last season, and one who played a huge part in guiding their side to that long-awaited Decima.

The Argentina international joined Manchester United this week and immediately penned an open letter to Madrid fans explaining that he did not want to leave the club and that "many lies were told" surrounding his future and departure.

Eugenio Lopez, Di Maria's agent in Argentina, hinted that the Madrid president wanted rid of the former Benfica man as early as January following the arrival of Gareth Bale. "There is a presidential issue there. But I do not want to talk about it," he revealed. Since then, Di Maria went above and beyond the call of duty to showcase his talents to Perez and prove him wrong. His performances should have been enough, but they weren't for the man who mattered.

Di Maria was superb for Real Madrid but in the end, it didn't matter to the men in charge.

The sale leaves Ancelotti with a mini rebuilding job after striking a winning balance involving the jet-heeled midfielder last term. It took the Italian three months to find that balance in a star-studded side last term, and judging by Monday night's lacklustre showing in a 2-0 victory over newly promoted Cordoba, it may take some time for the European champions to find it again. Only at Real Madrid can you go from clinching a 10th European Cup and being the most feared side on the planet to enduring a crisis just one match into the following season.

The former Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Milan boss may have said he did not need Di Maria in the Spanish Super Cup second leg this past Friday, but that looks to have been a quick-fire answer for the Spanish press. Los Blancos lost 1-0, 2-1 on aggregate, and Ancelotti's side clearly did need the player who topped La Liga's assist charts with 17 last season and provided the engine that made Madrid tick.

If anything, Ancelotti needs Di Maria as much as anyone else in his mega-bucks squad -- Cristiano Ronaldo and Bale included. He probably knows it, too. The Argentine revealed last summer that it was his manager that convinced him to stay at the club, and with the performances he produced over the course of last season that desire from Ancelotti must surely have only been stronger.

Having found the right balance last year with Di Maria in the squad, Ancelotti must start again this season.

"I spoke with Ancelotti last summer," said Di Maria before this year's World Cup. "I wanted to stay put and he wanted me to stay as well. He told me that he counted on me and it was up to me from there on." He added: "I have grown a lot under Ancelotti. He got the best out of me. Things have gone well and I made the right decision to stay." The Italian was nicknamed "the Peacemaker" after succeeding Jose Mourinho at the Bernabeu, but he could do little to firefight Di Maria's situation at the Bernabeu. That decision was largely out of his control.

The Madrid boss said the club did everything they could to keep the player in the Spanish capital this summer, while in contrast Di Maria said he wanted to stay. Something, somewhere is not right, as his sale was no real surprise. The Argentine international may have been a Galactico on the pitch last season but he was not a Galactico in the club shop. The commercial aspect of a player is crucial for a club such as Madrid, and while Colombian James Rodriguez can shift shirts aplenty, Di Maria, despite his efforts, cannot.

On Perez's part, Los Blancos got a superb deal for the player. United parted with a British record transfer fee for his services and Madrid welcomed the highest fee they've ever received for a player. This is a player who was not featuring regularly at the start of last season and a player who was mooted just six months ago as being worth less than half the fee Real eventually received. Madrid have done great business financially and have recouped the money they spent on their summer spree. Perez may rule, but financial fair play does, too.

Di Maria and Makelele were completely different players on the pitch but they still fell into the same bracket for Perez. "He [Perez] was not interested in me because I was not going to help sell any club shirts," Makelele said after his sale to Chelsea. "Someone may not like me," said a rather more conservative Di Maria. Makelele was a starter and a key cog as Madrid won their ninth European Cup thanks to a 2-1 victory over Bayer Leverkusen in 2002 in Glasgow. Madrid had to wait 12 years to win that trophy again and Perez will hope the disposal of a key cog in La Decima will not produce a similar scenario.

Real president Florentino Perez must hope his personal wish to sell Di Maria doesn't backfire.

Now, hot on the heels of the historic Champions League triumph in Lisbon -- where Di Maria produced a brilliant assist for Bale's crucial extra-time goal -- and with the footballing world at their feet, Madrid has taken one step back following the sale of a player whose final act as a starter in a competitive game for the club was to collect man-of-the-match honours on that huge night in the Portuguese capital.

That said, the Rosario-born midfielder was clearly not the only superstar in that history-making Madrid squad last season, and in Ancelotti, Real have a manager well capable of fixing things. He has the skill to help Madrid become the first club to successfully defend the Champions League this season, as well as win La Liga for the first time in three years. The big-money squad is evidence of that. In a league as closely contested as La Liga, however, a sluggish start owing to the unbalance caused by Di Maria's departure could be critical. Los Blancos were able to close the gap on midway leaders Atletico Madrid and Barcelona last season but they may not be afforded the same opportunity to catch up a year on.

For a player who could seemingly not shift shirts at the Bernabeu, Di Maria has been handed the iconic No. 7 jersey at Old Trafford, following in the footsteps of such greats as Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham, Eric Cantona, Bryan Robson and George Best.

The Argentine may shift a few more shirts in Manchester than Madrid, and may shift United back into the higher echelons of the Premier League. Meanwhile, Perez will be hoping his decision to sell one of his team's stars of last season does not shift the winning momentum collected last term.

Nicholas Rigg

Nicholas Rigg writes about Real Madrid for ESPN FC and also blogs about La Liga for The Independent. Former sports journalist at the Wakefield Express and the editor of Vital Sheffield Wednesday. You can follow him on Twitter @nicholasrigg.

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