One year on: in Memphis’ defence

May 8, 2016 Tags: Reads 18 comments
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Men at some time are masters of their fates. The fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves. It was a performance to reflect a season. In keeping with too many of his colleagues, Memphis Depay was dreadful in Manchester United’s 1-0 victory over doomed Norwich City on Saturday. It was a fresh nadir in a hugely disappointing campaign; one that threatens to conclude the Dutchman’s United career after just one year in England. It shouldn’t. Memphis has not earned another chance at United, but neither was he always the master of his fate. With talent and time on his side, the club should accede him a second chance.

It is an observation not widely held if the polarising world of social media is any barometer. Indeed, Memphis has become a poster-child for another failed campaign, a status that comes with much justification, although he is by no means solely culpable for a season that will end at a level well below acceptable.

After all, with a penchant for flash cars and dodgy fashion, an apparently poor attitude and worse performances, Memphis has done little to ingratiate himself to United’s fanbase after last summer’s £25 million move from PSV Eindhoven.

Memphis’ failure is magnified by lofty expectations, set both by his price, time at PSV, and a club eager to market a star in-the-making. The Dutchman was handed the number seven shirt once worn by George Best, Bryan Robson, and Eric Cantona, while featuring heavily in Adidas-related pre-season marketing. He lapped it all up, as did the fans.

Instead of catapulting United back into the limelight the 22-year-old has scored just seven goals this season, while contributing two further assists. Poor numbers, but it is the quality of opposition that is also concerning: his strikes came against Watford and Sunderland in the Premier League, and Club Brugge, Midtylland and PSV in Europe.

It is not just Memphis’ lack of goals that point to his failure at United. The player averages around two shots, half a key pass and 1.5 dribbles per game over the past year. Or, in other words, very little of note from a player of whom much was expected. That he is dispossessed or miscontrols the ball three times on average per match puts Memphis’ poor attacking stats in context.

The data is all the more shocking for the dip in numbers over the past year. Memphis was the top scorer in the Eredivisie last season, finishing with 22 goals as PSV won the title. He added a further three goals in cup competitions and five assists over the season. Every other relevant data point was near double in Memphis’ time at PSV compared to his 12 months at United. Beyond goals the player averaged greater than two key passes and more than five shots per game in Holland. His dribbling frequency was that of a dynamic forward in the top bracket – exactly the kind of player Louis van Gaal’s prosaic team and anaemic front-line desperately needed. Last summer and now.

Little wonder United moved quickly to capture the youngster, fending off interest from across the continent before concluding the deal exactly one year ago. “I was forced to handle it because, otherwise, he was going to PSG, that’s why I had to sign him,” Van Gaal admitted.

"It is the sense of the individual and not the collective that has damaged Memphis’ chances of featuring more often for Van Gaal’s side this season. The winger has started just 27 games. It is half the workload of countryman Daley Blind, and less than the intractable Jesse Lingard."

Pundits in Memphis’ homeland once described the winger as “the most exciting player to come from Holland since Arjen Robben,” while Van Gaal unashamedly compared the player to Lionel Messi. Today the criticism has reached a peak, with players and coaches wondering when, or perhaps if, one of Europe’s hottest properties will rediscover his mojo. It shouldn’t have come to this.

Memphis joined PSV aged 12, working his way through the club’s age group teams, before making a first team début in September 2011. He went on to score five goals in 11 appearances that season, before making another 30 appearances in 2012/13. It wasn’t until the following campaign that the goals began to flow – 14 in 43 games. Depay, who has a Ghanaian father and a Dutch mother, then made his international début in October 2013, coming on for Jeremain Lens during Holland’s 2–0 away win against Turkey.

His rapid ascent contributed to a sense of inevitable stardom and, to some observers, a player with a once-in-a-generation potential. Perhaps, though, it also contributed to Depay’s growing sense of entitlement. It is not always an emotion that serves young players well.

The drumbeat of criticism over the player’s performances and lifestyle has steadily increased. Indeed, Dutch great Ruud Gullit once accused the youngster on being “a really good footballer, but at the same time he wants to be a global superstar and a style icon. I think to myself, ‘boy oh boy, do it in the right order. You have to perform, perform and perform again.’”

The same observation has been made at Old Trafford. Privately, through assistant manager Ryan Giggs, Memphis was warned to moderate his celebrity lifestyle, especially in the context of erratic performances. Yet, while Giggs kept his counsel private, others did not.

“He arrived as a Peruvian pan flute player,” former Ajax coach Co Adriaanse quipped after Memphis arrived at a Dutch national team hotel in an ill-advised catwalk ensemble. “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.” On the pitch Adriaanse added that Memphis “needs to be corrected, he must realise that he is a member in a football team, that he is not just an individual.”

Memphis Depay

Peruvian flute player or Premier League footballer?

Indeed, it is that sense of the individual, not the collective, that has damaged Memphis’ chances of featuring more often for Van Gaal’s side this season. The winger has started just 27 games, coming on as substitute in a further 17. It is half the workload of countryman Daley Blind, while the less intractable Jesse Lingard has started 32. For all Lingard’s ability to action Van Gaal’s instructions, he is a player of limited natural attacking gifts.

It is Van Gaal’s emphasis on the collective that provides Memphis some cover though. While PSV proffered an uninhibited platform on the left side of a typically Dutch 4-3-3, Van Gaal has sought to constrain the player in a more structured midfield role. And when not on the left, United’s veteran manager has moved his new charge around the pitch, including starting the campaign with Memphis at 10. It was a bizarre ploy, and Memphis is far from the first creative player to suffer under Van Gaal, as Angel Di Maria and Rivaldo might attest.

Time, though, is on the player’s side – and he is far from the first overseas star to find the Premier League a tough proving ground. Memphis is “a very talented player” but fans “can’t underestimate how big a step it is up to the Premier League, and especially to a big club like Man United,” Arjen Robben prophetically warned last summer. Nor are the player’s faults unmanageable, although such was the depth to which Memphis sank on Saturday that confidence must now be at its lowest ebb.

“You have to give him some time because the talent is there,” added Robben. “He’s got everything that he needs to be a success in England.”

Yet, rumours have begun to circulate that United might be ready to offload the £25 million player this summer, especially if Van Gaal remains at the club beyond May. It might bring the club less than half the fee paid, in a summer when players of far less natural talent will move for far more. There appears little genuine upside in moving the player on just yet.

Under a new coach Memphis may well find a new lease of life, although with it comes a responsibility towards professionalism. Should José Mourinho arrive this summer Memphis might not receive the freedom of old, but the Portuguese is a coach that has extracted much from attacking players, despite his natural bent towards caution.

More, much more, may yet come from a player who should be too good to fail. There are plenty who would carve him as a dish fit for the gods. The hounds are not always right.


tl - May 8, 2016 Reply

he never got a fair shake IMO. LvG style suffocates flair players.

bobbynoble - May 8, 2016 Reply

Agree. You can add Januzaj and Pereira too.

david hutchinson - May 8, 2016 Reply

there’s a good player in there we just haven’t seen it yet give him another season

LVGenius - May 8, 2016 Reply

To err is forgive divine. In Louis’s world neither exist.

Subterranean Steve - May 8, 2016 Reply

Perhaps it’s a case of ‘right place, wrong time’ for Memphis? The ‘right place’ being Old Trafford, the ‘wrong time’ being the van Gaal era.

reds4life - May 9, 2016 Reply

Oh come on….fid LVG tell him to misplace a pass at Chelsea ? or nod the ball sheepishly back to his goalie that led to a goal? Did LVG ask him to misplace his passes or get dispossed at every turn? Memphis played well against oppositions that match the calibre of erdivise. Mitchylqnd and Brugge….he is the opposite of Di Maria. Di Maria was in a way too intelligent for the team he would misplace passes not bcos he wasn’t acurare but bcos the reciever did not interprete the game sooner….ADM I can say LVG more or less styfled his career. MD just isn’t as good as we all thought at least atm…..he may yet do a Ronaldo and become amazing in a season or two. But to blame LVG for his failure is ridiculous…Herrera maybe cos he somehow always makes a contribution and gets benched that you can blame LVG but not for Memphis.

Dayusdred - May 9, 2016 Reply

The fixation and blame game on lvg is so amazing. So he paid 25M for him just to truncate his career. The same player that excelled under the same coach at the fifa world cup scoring two goals. The fact is Memphis underestimated the physical nature of the league and hasn’t found a way around it. For those blaming lvg, may i remind you that Lvg actually played down fans expections when he signed Memphis saying it will take him time to adjust to the league bcos eredivise is of a lower league. As for Januzaj, come on, it must have been lvg that made his loan spell at Dotmund a failure too. Herrera as good as he is has never been consistent. He will play so well in a couple of matches and then, he goes missing in others. Di Maria was an experiment that was destined to fail. To start with, United and England was never his choice and he made no pretence about his preference for psg. Secondly he was never going to get used to the physical side of things in the league. His problem started when he got injured after being wacked against west ham. His complain that he was being played out of position is just an excuse. Afterall, its not as if he has a permanent wing he plays bcos Blanc is equally rotating him across the pitch at psg.

Puneet Sharma - May 9, 2016 Reply

He has potential, should get another chance and avoid making mistake like, Pogba, Di Maria and Chicharito.
This system does not suit him, new manager will change the system and help him flourish.

S - May 9, 2016 Reply

there’s no defending his performance on Saturday

Matt - May 9, 2016 Reply

Tough gig.

Rich - May 9, 2016 Reply

Taking any young player out of the club that more or less raised them is difficult; Sterling at City has struggled this year too.

It’s obviously a massive leap that Memphis clearly underestimated. He will have to gain a bit of humility and keep working and adapting. If he can’t do that at United then he should go.

It’s too easy to blame LVG. Blaming him for boring football seems fair enough to me, but blaming him for player development is far more complex and impossible to speculate from our position.

I say keep the responsibility on Memphis; if he’s destined for greatness he will shoulder it.

Blame LVG for soporific football.

Andre - May 14, 2016 Reply

Good post. I don’t like LVG’s substitutions, lineup changes and slow pace possession football (and I’ll NEVER understand how he keeps starting ROJO on defense) but Memphis has to be held accountable for his poor play. Should he get another year? On this team that starts the likes of Rooney and Mata at midfield? ABSOLUTELY. I can name 5 players that I wouldn’t bring back next year. Memphis isn’t one of them.

Peter K - May 9, 2016 Reply

Imagine what Klopp can do with him!

Pint vulger - May 9, 2016 Reply

His magical performance v Midgetland suggests he has the talent,got to say apart from that and the Bruges games he has been woeful.Being flash adds to the problem ,get it right on the field pal before you start dressing and acting like a nob.
Of course being so young demands he gets another season ,but his truly awful show v Norwich also suggests hes struggling big time.
Ridiculous to blame LVG on this one ,apart from the fact that hes gone from bad to worse,feel he may not make it,cant think of any player
starting so disappointingly eventually succeeding at Utd.
Shame he looks the part.
Another wedge wasted ???

Subterranean Steve - May 10, 2016 Reply

The best English manager in my lifetime, Brian Clough, said that the most important thing with young players was to ‘give them time’. Memphis has made a big leap from the Dutch league to the Premier League and to United in particular. He needs time to adjust.

Of course, his twenty five million quid price tag makes fans less forgiving and his ‘flash git’ lifestyle hardly endears him to Reds. However, one year is not enough time in which to judge a young player who came with such a glowing reputation. It would be pointless and shortsighted to off-load him so soon.

Denton Davey - May 10, 2016 Reply

Cloughie was the best manager Ingerland never had.

I agree with you about Memphis – he’s got skill and his physicality/strength are tremendous. BUT does he have the one-eyed desire to succeed ? That’s the 25 million question.

Fusilli Jerry - May 10, 2016 Reply

Coming after Zaha and Di Maria, Depay risks sealing United’s new-found reputation as the club where a certain sort of player’s career will badly stall. It is for that reason more than any other that Depay should be given another season: United do not need any more barriers in their ability to attract top talent (over and above Woodward’s ineptness, the competing lure of City and Liverpool’s charismatic managers, Chelsea and Arsenal’s WAG-becalming geography, etc).

However it doesn’t look promising for Depay: Martial does make a certain sense on the left. Mourinho if he comes will presumably see that, whilst retaining his self-limiting habit of flogging the same 11 players to death match after match, rather than employing the kind of stategically pre-planned squad rotation that gives different players a meaningful chance whilst facilitating freshness for the latter stages of the Champions League. Van Gaal-Giggs if they stay (heaven forbid) will presumably display the same quality of man-management, and ability to get through to Depay to make him focus and feel happy within himself at the same time, that we’ve already seen.

And neither managerial prospect leaves me comfortable re the chances of rehabilitation and integration respectively for Januzaj and Pereira. Whilst United remain the club more of Lingard and Valencia, maybe Big Sam is the man to consolidate the reduced expectation level we’re now told we should adjust to.

Subterranean Steve - May 10, 2016 Reply

Great comments F-J. It just reinforces in my mind what a basket-case United has become.

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