18th August 2015.
UEFA Champions League nights were back at Old Trafford after a season’s hiatus. Manchester United faced Belgian side Club Brugge in an important qualifier. On paper, this was set to be an easy win, with United having spent large amounts to bring in quality players over the summer. The spotlight was on one man in particular – a confident-looking Memphis Depay.
THE RISE AND FALL OF MEMPHIS DEPAY
Club Brugge took the lead through an unfortunate Michael Carrick own goal. But it was the response that set Old Trafford rising.
Memphis Depay scored a stunning equaliser, beating one before feigning a shot past three and eventually smashing the ball into the net. His second was even better. Daley Blind‘s pass came to his fellow Dutchman who smashed the ball into the roof of the net from outside the box. The 21-year-old answered the hype and announced himself on the grand stage.
Manchester United legend Rio Ferdinand went on to claim that night that Memphis would become a hero amongst the kids and one that they could “look up to on YouTube”. Memphis’ early form at the club reflected that statement, but it hasn’t been the same going since. 16 months from signing on with the Red Devils, the Dutchman can barely get a match under José Mourinho and looks set for a move away from the club.
His career has been very much unlike the last few months. With a league championship win in the Netherlands and a place in Louis van Gaal‘s 2014 FIFA World Cup side, this situation is an awkwardly unknown one for the winger.
After making an impact for the Netherlands at the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, one where he managed to score twice as well as earn a nomination for the tournament’s best young player, Memphis came into the 2014-15 season full of confidence.
PSV Eindhoven and Ajax were seen as the two favourites to win that season’s Eredivisie title. Often seen as the two traditional powerhouses in the Dutch game, this conclusion came as no surprise. The PSV side were blooming with talent. With players like Georginio Wijnaldum, Luuk de Jong, and Memphis Depay himself, they were at their peak.
Memphis started his season very well, scoring a double against newly-promoted Willem II. The following week he scored another brace, this time against NAC Breda. Both goals came from free-kicks in a sensational 6-1 thumping. He garnered a lot of praise for his performances early on and was lauded for putting the summer behind him, where the media couldn’t stop printing his name in the rumour mill.
More goals followed in the games that passed, including ones at Ajax and Feyenoord as well as some deft headers against Go Ahead Eagles and Cambuur. He earned comparisons with compatriot Arjen Robben for his attacking style of dribbling down the wing, before cutting inside to shoot with his stronger foot. While his free-kicks were likened to those of Cristiano Ronaldo – being struck with power, swerve and bamboozling the man in goal.
As games went by and goals kept on coming through the season, Memphis was seen as a key man in PSV plans. He was now attracting interest from across Europe, with Paris-Saint Germain, Liverpool and Manchester United being linked in a three-way battle to avail the Dutchman’s services. In the end, it was the Red Devils that got Memphis’ signature, but not before he sealed the Eredivisie title.
In April of 2015, Memphis scored a stunning free-kick from 35-yards-out to seal a 4-1 win against Heerenveen and a 22nd Dutch League title for PSV. He finished as the league’s top scorer that season with 22 goals – two ahead of teammate Luuk de Jong. Seven of those goals came from free-kicks and his exhilarating talent got Manchester United fans excited.
Memphis Depay’s arrival at Manchester United heralded a new era at the club. Boosted by their positive end to the previous season, and a return to the Champions League, many believed that they could finally win the Premier League once again that season. He took over the prestigious number seven shirt at the club, vacated after the departure of Ángel Di María, and previously worn by club legends George Best, Eric Cantona and David Beckham.
He put on a good showing in the early weeks, forming a formidable partnership with Luke Shaw down the left wing. But, at the end of August, United’s defeat away at Swansea City highlighted Memphis’ weaknesses.
His lack of willingness to defend, combined with his lack of ideas in one-on-one situations cost him dearly. Luke Shaw’s horrific leg break in a Champions League game against Memphis’ former side, PSV Eindhoven, combined with United’s inability to find a permanent solution for the season, failed to bring out the best in the winger.
The arrival of Anthony Martial put Memphis’ spot in further danger. After initial speculation that he would be played as a sole forward, with Memphis on the left wing, he seemed astute. But on an afternoon in London against Arsenal, a 3-0 trouncing where much of the side seemed clueless, Memphis was singled out for his dire display. Vacuous, bothered and baffled, this Memphis Depay barely seemed like a man who got 22 league goals last season. He was relegated to the bench for their next game – an away win at Everton and that signalled the beginning of the end just 3 months in.
Sporadic appearances across all competitions followed up until he was granted a lifeline in November. Injuries to Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney meant that Memphis Depay was the only available forward to Louis van Gaal for an away trip to Watford. Memphis took his chance as he scored ten minutes into the game – only his second Premier League goal. A fine performance for the rest of the contest saw him win the Premier League’s Man of the Match award – one that he hoped would reignite his career.
He was wrong. Memphis was back on the bench for United’s visit to Leicester City. The team’s horrible run of form in December of 2015, where they went eight games without a win in all competitions, failed to help Memphis’ cause. Rumours of a January move away were building up, but he was still determined.
The arrival and excellence of Manchester United’s academy products Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford put Memphis further down the pecking order at the club. Rashford, in particular, was praised for his direct and fearless style and could feature on the wings and as a forward.
The Manchester-bred youngster made his debut against FC Midtjylland in the Europa League – a game which made coach Louis van Gaal believe was a “turning point” for Memphis after his fantastic showing. Rashford’s humility, perseverance and confidence appealed to van Gaal and showed him, and the world, what Memphis was lacking.
Memphis Depay was anonymous for the rest of the season – even failing to make the FA Cup final squad which United won in dramatic fashion against Crystal Palace. At the end of the season, he seemed a man that made the £25 million fee paid for him a waste and is currently in oblivion at the club.
As of now, Memphis can’t seem to find a way to prove himself at the club. The arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimović has made Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial full-time wingers, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard make his task even more difficult.
The game against Club Brugge 14 months ago was an indication of his talent, one that he wasn’t able to keep up for a long time. He barely features in José Mourinho’s plans and looks set to leave the club. After so much potential and hype, he’s surrendered to the pressure of the badge, the fans, the shirt and the league.