Talent can be a curse. Just ask Freddy Adu. At age 14, the American signed a professional contract with DC United in MLS, scored his first professional goal and was labelled the successor to Brazilian superstar Pele. Thirteen years later and Adu has fallen from being heralded the future of the United States national team to playing for second tier side Tampa Bay Rowdies, the 12th professional club of his career.
Memphis Depay is a man with an undeniable abundance of talent. Pace, power, trickery and a brilliantly lethal right foot saw him labelled as one of the most exciting young talents that Europe had on offer. Following a spectacular goal on his World Cup finals debut in 2014 and a title-winning season with club PSV Eindhoven, in which he finished as the top scorer in the Eredivisie, Memphis had thrust himself into the reckoning of the biggest clubs in Europe.
Coveted from an Early Stage
Potential suitors were abundant, and before the season’s end he had signed for England’s most decorated club, Manchester United, for a more than significant transfer fee. Much hype surrounded the Dutchman and expectations soared. Fans anticipated that Louis van Gaal, Depay’s former Netherlands national team coach, would be able to extract the best of the 21-year-old. Indeed he was following a well-trodden path as he became the fourth player to move from PSV to Manchester United. It seemed a match made in heaven.
He was happy. Having acquired a sense of entitlement to a big money move, he spoke brashly after joining Manchester United of his sentiment that he could “aim higher” than United’s Premier League rivals Tottenham Hotspur, who were close to signing the wideman the previous summer, and who incidentally finished higher than the Mancunian club in Depay’s first season in England.
Arrogance Proving a Hindrance, Not a Weapon
Comments like these are indicative of Depay’s ego. Music videos for rap songs which feature the Dutchman can be found online, and while there is inherently nothing wrong with that, one can infer the self-promotion and the esteem which he holds himself in. This arrogance could work to be his biggest weapon should he cultivate it. After all, one of the best players the Old Trafford crowd has seen in recent times, Cristiano Ronaldo, is blessed with a comparable mind-set.
However, the subtleties which set them apart explain the gulf in attainment between the two at this early stage. The self-confidence, not arrogance, of Cristiano is rooted in his belief in his ability as a consequence of the extraordinary effort he puts in to ensure his quality. This allows the ego to construct an aura around him enhancing these abilities. Depay’s arrogance, however, creates no such aura and only serves to accentuate the ridicule when he fails to deliver.
First Campaign Frustrating for All
As with so many players who are transferred to a different league, the learning curve was steep, and Depay endured a torrid first campaign. He scored only twice in the 29 league appearances he made while failing to assist any of his teammates. By the end of the campaign he cut a troubled figure, spending the majority of his weekends on the bench whilst academy graduates Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford revelled on the pitch in his absence. A fight picked with Tottenham’s Kyle Walker having come off the bench with United 3-0 down was a telling incident.
Further Competition Could Make or Break
The summer signings of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have shunted Memphis even further down the pecking order, however training and playing with players of this calibre should only work to improve him over the long run. Furthermore, new manager Jose Mourinho, whose counter-attacking mantra focuses on fast transitions between defensive and attack, should suit the quick-witted Depay more than the possession-obsessed Louis van Gaal’s “philosophy.”
Mourinho’s man-management prowess should play into the Dutchman’s hands, and it seems feasible that Mourinho could mould Depay into a similar player to Eden Hazard, who revelled under the Portuguese manager’s stewardship.
Time on Depay’s Side
Ultimately, Depay must now work. Having rested on his laurels during his first season, he has to be prepared to be committed to improving himself. If he doesn’t, he won’t break into the first team and United will not hesitate to look elsewhere. A positive for him is the ageing nature of Mourinho’s attacking unit. Wayne Rooney is 30, Zlatan Ibrahimovic 34, Juan Mata 28 and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. At 22 years of age, Memphis Depay has the potential to be part of the Manchester United core for years to come alongside the likes of Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Luke Shaw and Eric Bailly. Should he secure a place in Manchester United’s future plans, there would be next to no better platform for him to realise his potential under the guidance of Mourinho.
The promising thing for Manchester United is that flashes of brilliance have been seen from the Dutchman. Numerous times in the Europa League last year, he got the Old Trafford faithful off of their seats with his trickery displayed against more modest teams. The challenge for Depay is to add a consistency and reliability to his game, which was lacking last term. Jose Mourinho takes no prisoners and the club has on offer the monetary resources to find a replacement should Mourinho call time on Depay’s Manchester United career, thus making this season a potentially make or break campaign for Memphis Depay.