When Manchester United signed Dutch winger Memphis Depay from PSV Eindhoven in the summer of 2015 for £26 million, they believed they had secured one of the most promising young stars in Europe.
Depay had been the top scorer in the Netherlands in the previous season, having helped PSV end Ajax’s four-year grip on the Eredivisie title.
Fast, strong, skilful and a deadball specialist, obvious comparisons were drawn between the Oranje international and a young Cristiano Ronaldo, and United fans were hopeful their new man could have a similar impact at Old Trafford as the great Portuguese attacker once had.
But things haven’t really gone to plan for Depay. His first season in Manchester saw him net seven goals from 45 appearances. Not a dreadful return by any means, but his struggles with influencing games against opposition that would be termed as mid-level or higher was evidenced by the fact that his goals came against Club Brugge (three), FC Midtjylland (two), Sunderland and Watford.
This season, under José Mourinho, Depay has been a peripheral figure for United and rumours of a January move away from the club are beginning to circulate.
The latest team linked with a move for the 22-year-old is Everton, and credence was given to these claims when the Toffees recently mentioned the United player’s brace for the Dutch national side on Twitter.
So, should Depay stay, or should he go?
Stay: He could come back to bite us if we let him go...
The Red Devils have allowed young players to leave Old Trafford in the past who have gone on to develop into the kind of footballer who would walk back into the United first-team given the chance.
The most notable of which is Paul Pogba, whom the club broke the world transfer record to re-sign in the summer; Gerard Pique of Barcelona is another high-profile example. And the same is true of Michael Keane who is now thriving at Burnley and being linked with a £25 million move back to United.
Delving further back into the club’s history, Sir Alex Ferguson has lamented the way talents such as Peter Beardsley and David Platt had been allowed to leave the club.
If Depay leaves now, without having been given the run of games needed to truly develop, he could go elsewhere and blossom.
Go: He hasn’t really shown any signs of developing into a top player...
It has been argued that Cristiano Ronaldo endured some difficult and frustrating times in his first couple of seasons at United before becoming a star, and Depay could be going through the same process.
But Ronaldo was 18 when he moved to Old Trafford, a full three years younger than Depay, who was already a full Dutch international and had featured at the 2014 World Cup.
And although Ronaldo would often elicit groans from match-going United supporters for his early tendency to overplay or try one step-over too many, he was still showing glimpses of his immense potential by interspersing his immature decision-making with moments of absolute brilliance; Depay has never really looked like having such gifts except when playing against vastly inferior opposition.
Stay: He hasn’t been given a fair chance to succeed...
There has been a lot of change at United over the last couple of years. Louis van Gall came, spent fortunes on shaping the squad in his image, and then was sacked and replaced by José Mourinho.
Within the managerial turmoil, team selection has been equally unstable. Van Gaal would often play players out of position and chop and change from week to week, while Mourinho is yet to find the right balance.
This is hardly conducive to a young player being able to settle into new surroundings and adapt fully to the demands of a new league. To that end, Depay can consider himself hard done by. The Dutchman has never been given the confidence of being made a regular starter. Instead, any sub-par performance has seen him immediately removed from the team.
Go: He hasn’t grasped the first-team opportunities he’s been given...
Though he has been in and out of a seemingly ever changing side, Depay has not yet grabbed the bull by the horns by putting in the kind of performance that would make him a shoo-in for selection in the next game.
Nobody is expecting him to carry the offensive burden for a team which has largely underperformed; he doesn’t need to pull up trees.
But his lacklustre displays have betrayed an unwillingness to assert himself and perhaps an absence of the kind of work-rate required to succeed under Mourinho.
Verdict: It’s a shame that things have turned out this way for Depay after the excitement of his signing, but the time is probably right for him to be moved on.
A loan until the end of the season would give the player a chance to rack up some much needed game time, while allowing Mourinho the opportunity to assess whether the winger has a long-term future at Old Trafford.