After an incredible 50 goals in 124 games for PSV, during which he won the Johan Cruyff Trophy for scoring 22 in 30 matches in 2014/15, Memphis Depay earned a move to the heights of Manchester United. Having guided the Dutch side to their first title since 2008, Louis Van Gaal took the calculated risk to bring his national compatriot to Old Trafford, with the attacker arriving for a reported fee of £25m.
However, what happens all too often in football inevitably happened again. A young Depay started life off in Manchester just as he had planned, utilising all of his bravery and confidence that he showed on the pitch to demand one special thing off it; the coveted number seven jersey. The small matter of George Best, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo had donned the famous shirt, while the recently departed Angel Di Maria had somewhat disappointed the long list of legends with his stint at the club. A direct replacement for the Argentine, Depay was, however, certain this wouldn’t be the case for him, yet no one could have guessed that just two seasons later their situations would be impossible to tell apart.
Life in England couldn’t have started better for Depay, who grabbed a brace in a Champions League qualifier against Club Bruges. More goals followed in both the league and in Europe, but they soon dried out during his first season at the club, with Van Gaal opting not to include the forward on a regular basis, with the manager pointing to Depay’s somewhat flashy approach to life both on and off the pitch as one the reasoning behind the decision.
The months dragged on for Memphis, who made just four league appearances – all from the bench – in his second season. The youngster was as good as gone when he played out the final minutes of a Europa League victory over Feyenoord and knew his time was up at United when Van Gaal chose not to include him in the FA Cup final squad to face Crystal Palace.
It was the lowest of lows for Depay, who went from being named the ‘Best Young Player’ in world football in 2015 by France Football, to starting just one match in the 2016/17 campaign, where he was given less than an hour at League One Northampton Town in a League Cup tie. Once the Eredivisie’s biggest talent since Arjen Robben, along with the third-highest shirt sales in the world, Memphis Depay had certainly suffered a tremendous fall from grace.
Unlike so many others before him, the Dutch international refused to give up, and used his determination to get back to his best after signing for Lyon in January 2017. Fortunately, since moving to France, manager Bruno Génésio has handed the forward a free role, and both simply haven’t looked back since.
After easing himself into the club in the latter stages of the 2016/17 campaign, Depay was soon firing on all cylinders, scoring 19 goals and assisting nine others as Lyon finished third the following season. A stunning hat-trick on the final day ensured a 3-2 victory over Nice, thus almost single-handedly securing Champions League football for his side.
From then on, much like his fellow former United number seven Ronaldo, Depay has won games for Lyon all on his own, with his powerful 5ft9 frame often outmuscling several defenders on the way to goal, and his tricky feet often turning them inside out. His technical ability and raw physical strength have given Ligue 1 defenders nightmares for what seems like an eternity now, yet one shouldn’t forget that the intimidating forward is still only 24 years of age.
Phenomenal free-kicks, long-range volleys and even a halfway line stunner have filled the months since, and Depay now finds himself on five goals and five assists for the current season. With an average of 2.6 shots and 3.2 key passes per game, along with a 76.7 pass success rate this season, the Lyon man is up there with the deadly front three of PSG, with Nantes forward Emiliano Sala also taking the league by storm with 11 goals in 12 games.
His determination has also shone through on the international front, having worked his way up through the Dutch national system. Not only did the forward score in the 3-0 victory over Germany in October, but his Panenka penalty in the 2-0 victory over France both incredibly ended the world champions’ 15-game unbeaten run and relegated Germany.
This soaring confidence is exactly the reason why countless United fans are imploring José Mourinho to activate the player’s buy-back clause, with Depay now directly involved in 41 goals in 52 matches for club and country in 2018.