It would take a large stretch of the imagination to describe an international away in Quito as a relaxing break. Ecuador's capital is by no means an unpleasant place to visit, and its beautifully-preserved colonial architecture meant that it was the first city to gain UNESCO World Heritage status in 1978.
As a venue for football, however, as Argentina and Angel Di Maria were reminded on Tuesday evening against Ecuador, the near-3000m (10,000ft) of altitude make for a lung-sapping experience if players are not accustomed. An early Fideo shot led to the penalty which put the Albiceleste ahead early on, but from that point forward the visitors had a desperate struggle to contain the tireless Ecuadorians, who pushed forward the entire game before having to settle for a 1-1 draw.
Still, for the rangy winger, doing the hard yards in the Estadio Atahualpa must have felt almost like a welcome holiday, a chance to escape from the constant transfer rumour mill that continues to surround Real Madrid.
Reeling from a disappointing season both domestically and in Europe, the word is that big changes are afoot at the Bernabeu to accompany the exit of coach Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese trainer, as with every club he has been at, left an indelible mark with the Merengue, and a figure of comparable personality would be needed to mark the start of a new era.
Carlo Ancelotti is the runaway favourite to succeed the Special One, with Madrid president Florentino Perez telling EsRadio (h/t Eurosport) the Italian is his No. 1 candidate. Whoever the new man is though, Goal.com believes that a clearout is inevitable to remove Mourinho's men; among which could be Di Maria himself.
According to the report, the Argentine would pay the price for a season of inconsistency, having failed on many occasions to put together a sustained run of form. It is perhaps true that over the last two years, his performances in the white of Madrid have not reflected the remarkable improvement seen in the national team, where Di Maria has come into his own since the arrival of Alejandro Sabella as coach.
But equally, Madrid and especially Mourinho's role in that transformation should not be underestimated.
The winger was one of Mourinho's very first signings at the Bernabeu, as he was convinced to pay €25 million for the clearly talented, yet also raw and temperamental, 22-year-old Rosario native. With the ball at his feet Di Maria was a terror, and convinced observers such as Diego Maradona, who told a press conference, according to The Mirror that his charge in the national team "Has the quality to be a worldwide superstar within the next two years."
Under Mourinho's tutelage and fitting into the Madrid system, his rough edges started to be smoothed. Whereas the young Di Maria was impetuous in the penalty area, too often going for a spectacular shot instead of the easy option, he began to search for his teammates and work more as part of a team. His numbers at Madrid, where in three seasons he has contributed 25 goals and 53 assists in 137 appearances, point to this metamorphosis into a player willing to contribute to the team effort.
For that reason, Madrid should not be in any rush to sell their Argentine talent, despite the removal of his mentor. But there will surely be firm interest during the transfer window as Europe's best clubs learn of his possible availability. Di Maria responded to speculation that he would follow Mourinho to Chelsea by telling Ole, according to Sky Sports that he is happy in Madrid and has no plans to uproot his young family to other climes.
A fellow new arrival to the Premier League might also wish to change his mind. Manuel Pellegrini, according to People, has made the Madrid man a priority signing and will ask the Manchester City board to release £30m in funds to tempt the Spanish club into selling.
As the Argentina star recharges his batteries after a punishing stint in Quito, the summer transfer carousel may be the last thing currently on his mind. The rumours will not cease, however, and if the new man in Madrid is determined to rebuild the bruised Merengue a move may be on the cards before the window slams shut in September.
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