Sometimes it’s just not meant to be. Despite the best intentions the relationship just doesn’t work, the pieces just don’t fit, there’s a square peg in a round hole. It’s an apt description for Morgan Schneiderlin’s time at Manchester United, which is coming to a low-key end as he metaphorically slips out the back door – a transfer away from Old Trafford is likely this winter.
Chris Smalling, Luke Shaw, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Memphis Depay, Morgan Schneiderin, Henrikh Mkhitaryan: six players, almost £100 million in transfer fees, and one big falling out. For differing reasons each of the sextet could be headed out of the club, caught in José Mourinho’s demand for total commitment. Once again the Portuguese has demonstrated a single-minded drive to do things his way, one that will cost the club millions in depreciating player values. It had better be worth it.
For the first time in what feels like a generation there are plenty of options in Manchester United’s attack. Such was the depth of David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal’s mediocrity that each was an architect of some of the most boring football seen at Old Trafford in decades. It is now José Mourinho’s time and the impression is already strong that he will not stand for it. Fun is returning to the red side of Manchester.
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.
Ever wondered what Cristiano Ronaldo eats for breakfast? Follow him on Instagram. Want to win a signed pair of Lionel Messi’s boots? “Like” his Facebook page. How is Rio Ferdinand getting to training in the morning? Check Wayne Rooney’s Twitter feed.
Considering the scrutiny under which top-level players are placed by the media, the level of exposure that they often choose to give to their private lives appears a little self-defeating. Players continually walk a virtual tightrope, and the use of social media has contributed little to counter the age old cliché regarding footballers’ questionable intelligence.
At the other end of the spectrum, the principal location for fan debate has migrated to the online universe, leaving the lager-fuelled analysis of the pub pundit in its wake. Football now has a worldwide forum – open all hours to just about anyone, and unlike down the local, you won’t get sent on your way for being too loud.
The tribal nature of football fans is not diluted in the virtual world, either. If anything, the baiting of rival supporters has reached new heights – or plumbed new depths – in an arena where goading is usually, at worst, met with equally childish retorts until someone decides they are running thin on insults and bails out with a quick press of the “block” button.
It takes significantly less courage to aggravate a rival via Twitter than it does outside a football ground on a Saturday, or to hurl abuse at a struggling player. Therein lies the inherent issue with football and social media.
The internet has become synonymous with knee-jerk reactions and instant, ill-considered, judgement. The football fan of 2015 demands instant results and is often afflicted with the inability to look beyond the present day, no matter how bad a day that may have been.
Players are now one bad performance away from a hammering at the hands of the masses, and more worryingly, the club’s own supporters. The marriage of footballers and fans online was always likely to be a tumultuous one. Yet, some of the comments directed at United players during and after Wednesday’s shock defeat to Middlesbrough, particularly those in the fledgling period of their career, was unbecoming of a club that takes pride in a focus on youth.
Which brings us to Memphis Depay. The 21-year-old from Moodrecht enjoyed a promising start to life in Manchester – catching the eye in preseason and emerging as the key figure in United’s negotiation of the treacherous Champions League third qualifying round, bagging two excellent goals and two assists as United disposed of Club Brugge.
Since then his form has wilted and his confidence appears to have run dry. In recent weeks, Memphis has been consigned to the bench, and in truth, he looks a little shell-shocked.
Predictably, given the player’s lofty price-tag and cocksure personality, the knives are being hastily sharpened in some quarters at the prospect of Memphis following the same path as the previous incumbent in seven – the tepid Angel di Maria.
Thankfully, the fee for which Memphis was acquired from PSV Eindhoven was not as eye-watering as the near £60 million United forked out to bring the sulky Argentine to Manchester – in hindsight, seemingly against his will – lest he would probably have been flogged in public by now. Yes, United paid a lot of money to sign Memphis, and he undoubtedly arrived with a big reputation, but that does not alter the fact that he is only 21.
Despite being younger than Jesse Lingard, and only slightly older than James Wilson, the early signs are that Memphis will not be afforded the same level of patience and support that the two home-grown talents have enjoyed thus far.
Regardless of cost or weight of expectation, Memphis is a young player – and young players are frustrating. It is an obvious comparison, but if Twitter had reached its nadir when Cristiano Ronaldo was 21, the treatment received by the Portuguese at the hands of the internet hordes would have been similarly fierce.
Ronaldo was the very definition of infuriating. The winger displayed flashes of genius amid extended periods of over-elaboration and poor decision-making, all whilst provoking consternation with a headstrong persona and penchant for the theatrical. In short, social media would have had a field day with Ronaldo. And look how wrong the masses would have been.
Parallels with a young Cristiano in no way show that Memphis will go on to emulate one of Old Trafford’s last true superstars, but the need for United fans to exercise patience with the young Dutchman still rings true.
Memphis may flourish in spite of being labelled as a “fraudster”, an “expensive flop” and an “overhyped tool” by United supporters. The player is, after all, less than half way through a maiden season in England – a league that is notoriously difficult to adapt to, even for the most established star. He possesses the physical attributes to deal with the rough and tumble nature that sets the Premier League apart from other European leagues. There are also signs that Memphis has the ability to turn a game on his own.
Unfortunately it is an era where a primary source of information on foreign talent comes through the medium of video highlight packages or even six second Vine clips. Fans’ expectations often climb to unrealistic heights before the player has even put pen to paper.
Those countless YouTube montages of the winger’s free kick prowess at PSV Eindhoven were undeniably exciting, but they don’t show you the ones that landed in the cheap seats. The skills packages omit the times Memphis ran straight into the defender instead of bamboozling his opponent with some outlandish piece of trickery.
The inevitable result is an illusion – too many fans were expecting Memphis to be the finished article, even if the collective tweet on the day he signed proclaimed that the player would be given time to settle. And time is both what Memphis needs, and what he hasn’t had enough of yet.
The irony of the situation is that Memphis appears to revel in the celebrity that comes hand-in-hand with being a footballer, and social media is a massive part of that. He commands 1.7 million followers on Instagram, and a further 650,000 on Twitter. Yet, it is within this universe that the wolves will come calling, long before Memphis experiences any dissent on the terraces.
The young Dutchman is also a victim of Anthony Martial’s instant success. Martial has swept the Old Trafford faithful off their feet in a way that no one expected, and Memphis’ inability to match the performance level of the Frenchman may have contributed to the rising tide of criticism. The internet loves a hero, and now it is Martial, not Memphis, who is capturing the imagination.
Regardless, any football coach will attest that young players develop at different rates. Some find their game more quickly than others. Given his age, there will likely come a time when Martial struggles too. Will the social media collective vehemently accuse the youngster of fraud after a few poor performances?
Fan reaction on the internet will not be the deciding factor in Memphis’ United career. That will derive from whether the player indeed possess the ability many suspect, coupled with the strength of character required to flourish at a club of United’s size.
Labelling the young man a failure after three months of the season woefully premature; it is also a sad indictment of the modern football fan. Tweet that if you like.
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.
Manchester United has qualified for next season’s Champions League and a good result against Arsenal – together with any further slip-on on the London side’s part – may even see the Reds sneak directly into Europe’s premier club competition. United must finish third to avoid a Champions League play-off against potentially difficult opposition next August. Read More
After two seasons of a seemingly scattergun approach to the transfer market Manchester United made a decisive move on Thursday to capture PSV Eindhoven player Memphis Depay. The 21-year-old winger will join the club, subject to the usual medical, for around £25 million when the market opens on 1 June. It is a transfer that will fill a significant hole in manager Louis van Gaal’s squad – a goalscoring winger who adds genuine pace to United anaemic front-line. Indeed, the player – who prefers to use ‘Memphis’ – is expected to be the first in another busy window at Old Trafford; a summer wish list that also includes a central defender, right-back, and central midfielder.
Van Gaal has struggled to get the best out of his wide players this season – and Memphis will be expected to start in what is shaping up to be a 4-3-3 system next season. The 62-year-old manager repeatedly used Memphis from the bench during last summer’s World Cup, switching from a 4-4-2 with Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben deployed up-front to a more familiar Dutch system including three forwards.
Back at Old Trafford Angel di Maria has suffered a horrendously difficult season despite a bright start to the campaign after a British record £59 million transfer from Real Madrid. In recent weeks di Maria has been out of Van Gaal’s side altogether and seemingly heading for a transfer away from the club this summer.
Meanwhile, Antonio Valencia has spent much of the campaign deployed at right-back, while Adnan Januzaj has started just seven Premier League matches. Nani spent the campaign at Sporting and is certain to be sold this summer, while few would have predicted last August that Ashley Young would enjoy the best season of United’s wide players. Still, with two goals and three assists this season, Young’s success is relative when set against a barren few years at the club.
By contrast Memphis has enjoyed the finest campaign of a fledgling career, scoring 27 goals in 38 appearances across all competitions. The goalscoring feats stand out in particular because the player is almost universally deployed off the left flank by PSV coach Phillip Cocu.
The player’s breakthrough season came after Memphis scored twice during last summer’s World Cup – the only goals of an early international career that stretches to just 15 games. There will be many more appearances for the Oranje, with pundits in Memphis’ homeland describing the winger as “the most exciting player to come from Holland since Arjen Robben.”
Memphis’ numbers look good beyond goals alone, with the player contributing a further four assists over the campaign and averaging greater than two key passes per game. The high number of shots-per-game relative to other players in the Eredivisie – more than five – and the frequency with which Memphis dribbles also points to a more dynamic player than Van Gaal’s squad currently boasts.
Memphis joined PSV aged 12, working his way through PSV’s age group teams, before making a first team debut in September 2011 during a KNVB Cup match against amateur side VVSB. He went on to score five goals in 11 appearances that season. Memphis made another 30 appearances in 2012/13, but it wasn’t until the following campaign that the goals began to flow – 14 in 43 games for the club. Deeply, who has a Ghanaian father and a Dutch mother, made his international debut in October 2013, coming on for Jeremain Lens during Holland’s 2–0 away win against Turkey.
Back at United, Memphis’ transfer raises questions about several players’ future, not least Januzaj, who is now likely to spend next season on loan – possibly at Everton. There will be few surprises if Van Persie joins Falcao and Di Maria in leaving the club as well.
Welcome to Old Trafford, Memphis.
“This move was just about feeling, not money. It’s been an exciting and hectic period and to have had to choose between so many top clubs doesn’t make it any easier. Manchester United is an absolute dream club, so I didn’t need any convincing about the quality of the guys already there. I’m looking forward to playing alongside a few of my Dutch team-mates but also the other players as well. You can’t deny the interest of a club such as Manchester United. I’ve learned so much at PSV, not only on the pitch but also as a person. That makes me grateful but I really felt it was time to move on. And working with manager Louis van Gaal again is also a big bonus.”
Louis van Gaal
“He’s a goalscoring winger and there aren’t so many of them in the world. Messi is one of those. I was forced to handle [the situation] as a manager because, otherwise, he was going to PSG, that’s why I had to sign him and we’ve done it within one day.”
Marcel Brands, PSV technical director
“Memphis has risen through all the ranks at PSV and has had a huge impact on winning the Dutch Eredivisie title this season. He is a worthy representative of our Academy and will make a great move to a wonderful club in a magnificent league. Sadly, we will say goodbye to a fantastic player and we will miss one of our key players, who has been of great value to the team, but we grant him this wonderful step. Memphis has gone through all the teams of the PSV youth academy and has played an important part in the national title this year. He’s a wonderful exponent of our training and will be moving to a magnificent club.”
Ronald Koemann, Southampton manager
“For him it’s a fantastic move. He has had a great season and last season made the step up to be a senior player, not a junior player. He still has to develop himself. It will be tough for him because the Premier League is tough in a physical and mental way. It’s a big step for him. But he’s a great talent, a fast player and a very good signing for Manchester United.”