In Memphis Depay’s final game for PSV against ADO Den Haag before his move to Manchester United, the PSV faithful brought out a special banner for him: ‘Dream. Believe. Achieve.’
There has been no lack of the former two, but the ‘achieving’ part has not quite gone to plan in the last 18 months.
The catalyst for Memphis’ move to United was Louis van Gaal. The former Dutch national coach convinced not only Ed Woodward and the Manchester United hierarchy to invest £31m in the winger, but also assured Memphis that Old Trafford was his ideal destination despite interest from Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain.
Speaking to German newspaper Bild in July 2015, Memphis said: “There were discussions with nearly all the top clubs. Bayern were one of them, but in the end Manchester United came out on top. I only spoke to Louis van Gaal and he totally convinced me. He gave me the feeling that I was very important for him. Not only as a player but also as a person – and then it was clear that I would go to Manchester United.”
Van Gaal initially retained his faith, starting Memphis in a supporting striker role alongside Wayne Rooney on United’s summer tour and in the opening Premier League matches. But soon after the experiment was scrapped and Memphis faced a fight for his place on the left wing.
The demands of the Premier League were not unknown to the winger, and yet the speed of his adaptation was far too slow. His talent was evident, but with pressure building on Van Gaal Memphis’ inconsistency became a luxury the manager could no longer afford. Instead, Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford all overtook the former PSV man in the pecking order.
And so, after only 134 minutes on pitch for United this season under new boss Jose Mourinho, Memphis leaves for the east of France, having been described by Lyon President Jean-Michel Aulas as a ‘dream transfer’.
The next few years will be as important as any for the 22-year-old, but the move itself is likely a step in the right direction. According to L’Equipe and Aulas, PSG outbid Lyon in the late stages of the deal but Memphis preferred Lyon. It could prove to be a smart move from a player whose decision-making on the pitch is often questioned.
Given that PSG have recently signed Julian Draxler to play in a similar position, and already have the likes of Ángel di María, Jean-Kevin Augustin, Javier Pastore, Hatem Ben Arfa and Jesé in their ranks, Memphis could have found himself in the same position that stalled his progress at Old Trafford. Stuck behind a star-studded line of wingers and attacking midfielders, deprived of the playing time to truly make his mark.
At Lyon he has a much more straightforward path to being the first-choice left winger. He may benefit from being one of the club’s leading stars, as he was at PSV, but he will also be surrounded by a talented team, including striker Alexandre Lacazette, Rachid Ghezzal, Nabil Fekir and midfield revelation Corentin Tolisso.
The best-case scenario for Memphis is to try to emulate a man currently playing for the other side of Manchester, Kevin de Bruyne. Deemed surplus to requirements at Chelsea in January 2014 by Mourinho, De Bruyne elected to move to Wolfsburg and proved to be a phenomenon in the Bundesliga before returning to England as one of the best players in Europe with Manchester City.
Memphis is not short of potential and, given that he only turns 23 in February, he has time on his side to shrug off his recent stagnation and get back on track. Work ethic isn’t normally something he is criticised for; when even Mourinho, who didn’t hesitate throwing shade at De Bruyne’s willingness to train at Chelsea, is full of praise for Memphis’ professionalism there is definitely something he is still doing right.
At a time when unbridled access to video snippets of young players in foreign leagues often leads to premature conclusions and hype, the disappointment of Memphis’ spell at United is perhaps one of perception as much as his own inability to adapt.
Memphis arrived a young, unpolished talent, requiring time to develop at a club that put his needs first. Instead, he quickly found himself in a difficult position not entirely of his own making, at a club undergoing significant change to rebuild its identity.
He leaves United with the hope to rediscover his own identity on the pitch, and resume his attempt to scale the heights he once seemed destined to reach.
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