Could Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo reunite at PSG next year?
Players meet their old clubs all the time but, when one comes up against a team for whom he made an impression, there's something special.
If PSG ever play against Manchester United in the Champions League, it's fair to say that Angel Di Maria won't feel too emotional, considering the miserable time he mostly endured at Old Trafford last season. But when the Argentinean plays Real Madrid on Wednesday at the Parc des Princes, it will be a different story.
Di Maria, who has been excellent since arriving in Paris, spent four seasons at the Bernabeu, played almost 200 games for the Merengues, scoring 36 goals and providing 62 assists. There he won La Liga in 2012, two Copas del Rey and more importantly, the Champions League in 2014. In that win, he played a crucial role for then-manager Carlo Ancelotti, in a deeper midfielder role where his stamina, energy, work rate and quality on the ball helped lead Madrid to La Decima, their 10th Champions League/European Cup title.
Di Maria will be a part of the Spanish club's history forever. He may never be remembered as one of their greatest players of all time alongside Alfredo Di Stefano, Emilio Butragueno, Raul or Cristiano Ronaldo, but he had a big impact there -- despite spells of inconsistency. His performances in the 2014 Champions League triumph, in particular in the semifinals and in the final, will never be forgotten by the Real Madrid faithful.
Conversely, Real had an impact on Di Maria too. He joined as a promising 22-year-old winger from Benfica. He was still raw and running like a headless chicken (which he still does at times). But the Santiago Bernabeu made him a man and a top player. He was pushed out rather than choosing to leave the club as Real couldn't refuse United's £59.7 million offer, but this week, Di Maria expressed his gratitude for his time in Spain.
"If I ever score a goal I won't celebrate because, deep in my heart, I'll never forget what I experienced at Real" he said on French television on Sunday.
Di Maria, now 27, has great respect for Real Madrid, and the opposite is also true. It will be one of those moving reunions. And among his former teammates, Di Maria will once again see Ronaldo, whom he is very close with. They have the same agent in Jorge Mendes and are still very much in touch. And who knows, maybe one day they will play again together in the same team.
It is no secret that PSG will try to sign Ronaldo this summer to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swede is out of contract in June and will likely leave the French capital. Paris need a marquee signing to replace Ibrahimovic and the Portuguese star has always been, more than Lionel Messi even, the fantasy of the Qatari owners.
Of course, trying to attract Ronaldo to Paris will prove very difficult but not impossible. He will be 31 in February; he has won everything possible and imaginable with Real Madrid, where he has spent six amazing seasons, and the seventh one has started pretty well too with 11 goals in 10 overall appearances. His last La Liga goal, scored against Levante, broke Raul's record as the club's all-time scorer with 324 goals.
Ronaldo's contract at the Bernabeu lasts until June 2018 and he said recently, when receiving his fourth Golden Boot, that he wanted to stay until the end of his career. But he also said at the end of September that he "was happy for now but nobody knows what will happen next year."
If you look at it, Ronaldo to PSG could make sense, for all parties. Real Madrid would still get a lot of money and in Gareth Bale, they already have a world-class player to replace Ronaldo. They would receive enough money from the deal that they could try to poach Chelsea's Eden Hazard, for example. They have been also linked with Marco Verratti in the past, despite the club's denials, and may be tempted by a player-plus-cash offer from PSG.
Ronaldo would stand to gain financially at PSG, who would break the bank for him and can now afford him since financial fair play regulations have been eased off. Paris has a large Portuguese community and that means he would be an absolute idol there. In terms of image, the glamour of Paris would be perfect for him and for his business ventures. And he would move away from the Spanish press, with whom relations have never been great.
And as for PSG, they would get an incredible player who is still at his peak and would strengthen the current team. It would take them to another dimension and to an even greater global profile than when Ibrahimovic signed four years ago. The club would continue to progress, especially towards their quest of a Champions League trophy, unless they can achieve it this season, of course.
There are a lot of ifs, but the PSG directors are more optimistic than pessimistic. They are very close to Mendes, who will have a huge say in Ronaldo's future. They have a great relationship with Real Madrid's president Florentino Perez, who was invited to Doha back in July.
As the speculation continues to build, people are starting to talk more openly about the deal. Ramon Calderon, Real Madrid's former president, is not ruling out a departure of Ronaldo to Paris.
"I heard the rumours about a strong interest from PSG. As a former president and supporter of Real Madrid, I hope it will never happen." Calderon told Le Parisien newspaper on Tuesday. "But as a connoisseur of the world of football, I think that a departure is possible. For the moment, Cristiano has not spoken about it. I think he'll make his decision at the end of the season in accordance with the titles won and the feelings he has."
On Wednesday, Ronaldo will play for the first time in his career against PSG and his friend Angel Di Maria. It will be his first time at the Parc des Princes as well and perhaps a reconnaissance mission. Paris will hope it's not the last time they see him.
Julien Laurens is a London-based French journalist who writes for ESPN FC and Le Parisien. Follow him on Twitter: @LaurensJulien.