The Curious Case of Memphis Depay & United

Dutchman returns to Manchester as his Lyon side face City in the Champions League later.
Jay  |  19th September 2018

When the signing of the then 21 year-old winger Memphis Depay was announced by Manchester United in the summer of 2015, you couldn’t help but feel a sense of excitement.

Fans on the whole were buzzing at the prospect of one of the most sought after attacking players on the planet plying his trade with the Reds for the coming season, especially as it would be a campaign featuring Champions League football, back at Old Trafford after a 12 month hiatus.

The player himself seemed keen to set a good impression following his £31 million move, noting:

“This is a dream come true for me, a new chapter in my life and one that I am looking forward to.” said Depay upon becoming a United player.

It wasn’t just the player and fans that were excited, manager Louis van Gaal waxed lyrical about his new charge, one who’d just finished as top score in the Dutch league with 22 goals for PSV Eindhoven.

“I know Memphis well from our time working together in the Netherlands national team,” said the United manager.

“He is a young versatile player who has the ability to play in a number of different positions.

“It will take time for Memphis to get used to the rhythm of the Premier League.

“But I have no doubt that he has the potential to become a great footballer for this club and he is at the right club to continue the good work he has done so far.”

Memphis was handed the coveted number 7 shirt and few around the club felt the youngster didn’t have the talent or the confidence to wear one of the most famous shirts in football.

After bagging his first United goal in pre-season, Memphis started the Premier League campaign opener against Spurs, being substituted and coming in for mild criticism from van Gaal, although it was hardly the worst reprimand:

“I told Memphis not to be too eager and passionate. New players, especially young players, want to show their qualities,” Van Gaal told the media in his post match conference.

“The first time you play at Old Trafford it is always difficult. Memphis has speed but he has to learn when he has to go and when he doesn’t have to go.

“It’s a new position for him and he has to adapt to it because he is a goalscoring type, but we have to wait and see if he can fulfill the demands of this position.”

It was in Europe that United fans first truly saw what Memphis could do – he’d insisted on dropping the surname – as he tore apart Club Brugge with an excellent brace in the Champions League play-off first leg.  Both of Depay’s goals were top class and it looked as though United had signed a true gem, someone who could not only beat players and score goals, but score spectacular goals to boot.

United are 29.00 to win the 2018/19 Champions League*

Another goal against PSV in the Champions League group stages, added to the feeling Memphis was finding it easier to shine in Europe than in the more rigorous Premier League, although he did open his domestic account against Sunderland. The 3-0 win over the Mackems put United top of the league for the first time in over two years and gave fans the hope that things were finally beginning to click under the Iron Tulip with Memphis ready to play a big part in van Gaal’s revolution.

The watershed moment for Memphis and indeed van Gaal’s United tenure came at the Emirates in early October as United were beaten 3-0, a game which saw the Reds concede three goals in the first 20 minutes and at one point threatened to be revenge for the infamous 8-2 mauling the Gunners had once endured at Old Trafford.

Rumours began circulating that some of the United coaching staff, Ryan Giggs in particular, were unhappy with Memphis’s flashy lifestyle which seemed to revolve, rightly or wrongly, around a busy social schedule and ostentatious clothes and cars.

The player himself tried to account for his dip in form, pointing to the number of games in the Premier League, noting:

“There are a lot of games in Manchester. There are very few rest days and on training days you are mainly concerned with recovering. It’s heavy, two games a week, always at a high level, and my body has to get used to that.”

His manager seemed unmoved by Memphis’s confession and dropped the player to the bench as he looked for ways to address the Reds’ slump which saw them drop out of the Champions League places and endure a horrible winter run that saw six winless games. In the same period United also losing three consecutive games against such mediocre opposition as Stoke City, Bournemouth and Norwich City, the vultures were circling for van Gaal – and Memphis, who’d managed just two league goals by the turn of the year, was a convenient scapegoat.

Wayne Rooney recently reflected on how he ‘gave up’ on trying to help his young team mate following United’s loss to Stoke, the former United skipper noting:

“He came on at Stoke away and messed up for their goal so Louis van Gaal made him play for the reserves the next day.”

“I said, ‘Look, it’s a bit difficult [for you]. Just don’t come in with all your fancy stuff.’

“And he turned up for the reserve game in his Rolls-Royce, wearing a leather jacket and a cowboy hat. And I just thought, ‘What’s the point?’

It seems slightly ironic that Rooney whose off the field activities often brought criticism should act as some form of guiding light to any young player and there’s an argument that maybe the winger, in a new country, wearing the club’s most lauded shirt, needed more than van Gaal’s harshness and his captain’s half-hearted advice.

The rest as they say is history, Memphis would become an increasingly peripheral figure at United, as pressure mounted on the manager, the out-of-sorts attacker was a luxury van Gaal couldn’t afford. When he did feature Memphis seemed to do more harm than good, being blamed for giving the ball away late on at Chelsea as the home side went on to score and deny the Reds a much needed morale boosting win. Although there was a slight improvement with his performances in the Europa, the emergence of a certain Marcus Rashford, full of Mancunian energy and a Midas like goalscoring touch meant the fans quickly forgot about their marquee summer signing.

Memphis will face City tonight as part of Lyon’s Champions League squad and seems to have got his career back on track after leaving Old Trafford early in his second season with the club.

Of his time at United, Memphis noted earlier this week:

“Everybody knows the story of me and Manchester United was not successful.”

“After one season, I couldn’t find myself in the team. I was still young, didn’t get a lot of opportunities, but I must say that the first season I didn’t put the quality on the table that I thought.”

“I’m just happy that I’m the player I am today. I became a much better player. I can feel it in games and everyone can see it.

“For sure, the city is still red and we will try to get a good result against the Blues.”

Sentiments United fans will no doubt agree with.

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