Memphis Depay’s bittersweet United honeymoon
When Manchester United announced the signing of Memphis Depay, before the end of last season, United fans were right to be excited about the prospect of watching the Eredivisie top scorer in red. Memphis’ lethal combination of pace and trickery fit well with the Dutch international’s swagger – very much a traditional United wide player. Indeed, Louis van Gaal was so impressed with Memphis that the new recruit was bestowed United’s ‘number seven’ jersey in his début United campaign. Instant comparisons were made with Cristiano Ronaldo, and expectations grew among supporters desperate for a sprinkle of stardust in a squad short of marquee players.
Yet, despite a bright start in pre-season, and a fantastic performance against Club Brugge in the Champions League, the Dutchman has underwhelmed. Some might say Memphis is a shell of the mercurial talent that tormented the Dutch league. The winger has found the back of the net just once in the Premier League and his decision-making, a flaw throughout his young career, has not improved over the past 14 games.
During United’s heavy defeat at Arsenal Memphis was dispossessed twice more often than the rest of the United team – a damning statistic sure to infuriate a manager obsessed with possession. Fans too have grown impatient, especially in light of the impressive performances by fellow summer signing Anthony Martial. It leads to the obvious question, even early in his time with United, of where Memphis has gone wrong.
The player’s stunning form for PSV in the past year led to a host of clubs competing for Memphis’ signature, despite the Dutchman being far from the finished product. In a good PSV side, which contained players such as Georginio Wijnaldum and Luciano Narsingh, Memphis was the main man, still short of his 22nd birthday. It was a team built around the winger’s talents – and he shouldered the responsibility of being PSV’s go-to player with 22 strikes that propelled his team to the title.
By contrast, in a United shirt, Memphis has struggled to provide a goal threat, with just 40 per cent of his shots on target in the Premier League. Aside from two stunning strikes in Brugge the player’s shooting has been less accurate than his attacking team-mates.
Memphis has been disposed – or had an ‘unsuccessful touch’ – 49 times in eight league appearances to date. Far too many – and data that points to a player too often keen to seek glory and not find a colleague.
“Memphis needs to be corrected,” noted former Ajax coach Co Adriaanse recently. “He must realise that he is a member in a football team, that he is not just an individual, a 100 metre sprinter like Usain Bolt.”
Yet, Memphis has that explosive turn of pace the skills and the skills that could be a key in United’s attacking triumvirate this season, but, as Angel Di Maria proved, raw talent is not always enough. The Dutchman must improve his all-round game if he is to be part of the long-term furniture at Old Trafford.
Memphis’ value is in his role as part of the team collective – and within Van Gaal’s possession-based philosophy. Sub-par performances have seen Memphis hooked at halftime by Van Gaal against Liverpool and Arsenal, while being relegated to the bench in recent games at Everton and CSKA Moscow. There is a growing fear that Memphis might suffer the same fate as Di Maria, who once promised so much, only to leave unhappy after just season in Manchester.
Unlike the Argentine, Memphis has always had an exuberant off-the-field presence, and has come to learn of the intense media spotlight on players at United. The English press have already scrutinized every aspect of the Dutchman’s game, personality and behavior – from his dress-sense to social life.
The player fanned these flames by heading out on the town following United’s horror show against the Gunners when a low-profile would have served him better. Both publicly and privately, through assistant manager Ryan Giggs, Memphis has been told to moderate his lifestyle, especially in the context of his forgettable performances on the pitch.
Giggs is not the only coach to question the winger’s focus.
“He arrived as a Peruvian pan flute player at [Netherlands team hotel] Huis ter Duin,” added Adriaanse. “If you are a young boy and still have not done anything, do not play dress up as you report to the coach. Ronaldo does that, but at least he is proven.”
There are many who believe that playing under Van Gaal’s authoritarian regime will help Memphis knuckle down and improve over time. However, murmurs among restless fans will continue to grow as long as sub-par displays on the pitch are coupled with a lack of maturity off it.
There is a positive outlook though. Memphis is known as meticulous on the training field; a player who is willing to listen and work hard. Still just 21, the Dutchman can yet be moulded into the player fans expect him to become – especially under Van Gaal, a manager with a proven track record of developing young players.
The honeymoon will last only so long though. In the end the former PSV talent must learn to do his talking on the pitch and leave the pan-pipes at home. Should performances fail to improve, while the player’s social life continues to make the headlines, Memphis’ dreams of conquering the Premier League may fade like too many before him.