There are a number of Manchester United players who came and went under the Louis van Gaal reign without so much making a dent in their careers. To be fair, his appointment into the role following David Moyes’ short stint as manager was a mistake. Nonetheless, the talent that surrounded the Dutchman was considerable.
When he arrived in Manchester in 2015, Memphis Depay was fresh off a monumental season at PSV, where he developed a reputation of being one of the league’s finest young players. Not to mention, he closed his Eredivisie tenure with a 22-goal season.
Memphis’ time at United was scrutinized from the start. As the wearer of the iconic no. 7 shirt, there was immense pressure to revive the esteem of being its owner, something its predecessor Ángel Di María — who spent one forgettable year at Old Trafford before leaving for Paris Saint-Germain — could not accomplish.
Although most of the players who won the last domestic title under Sir Alex were still with the team, an aging squad and a lack of belief in the successor’s tactics saw the entire club suffer. Having played under Louis van Gaal in the 2014 World Cup with some success, perhaps Memphis would have fared better than most of his mates. Unfortunately, he did not.
A mere 18 months into his four-year, £25-30m deal, Memphis was offloaded to French side Lyon, and the esteem that came with being the keeper of the iconic shirt declined in unison with the state of Manchester United Football Club. Desperate to build a team to his liking, José Mourinho sent the alleged “new Cristiano Ronaldo” off with just seven goals to close out his career in the North West. Perhaps United wanted to see some maturity in the Dutch international, as they included a buy back clause in his £16 million transfer deal back in 2017.
There was little talk of United missing Memphis following his January transfer last year, as the addition of Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku softened the blow of his exit. However, it’s what the 24 year-old has done at the start of this campaign that has impressed critics and Lyon fans alike. A stunning 2-1 victory at the Etihad in September piqued the attention of those who once disregarded his skill, as Les Gones humbled the Citizens in Champions League play.
“Manchester is still red,” the winger joked afterwards.
Weeks later, he found the back of the net for the Oranje in the 86th minute in a shock 3-0 victory against Germany, continuing the former world champions dreadful year of international play.
It hasn’t taken long after his move to France for Memphis to regain the form that saw him rated so highly in 2015, beginning with some spright coupled with sensational long passes. From the start, he was awarded more time and freedom to capitalize on his strengths that he gained in England and consequently began to thrive as a result.
In his first full year in France, he bagged a hat-trick against Troyes and a stunning injury-time winner against Paris Saint-Germain. In March, a header in a 3-2 win over Marseille was the start of a run of 10 goals and seven assists in nine league games — closing with a another hat-trick against Nice on the final day of the campaign. Only Edinson Cavani and Florian Thauvin scored more goals in Ligue 1 than Memphis did in 2017-18, and he joined Neymar at the top of the assist table with 13. Even better than all of those accolades? He looked like he was enjoying his football, and his time on the pitch has contributed to his growth as on of Ligue 1’s most versatile players. Not bad for a Manchester United reject.
At 20 years-old, the pressure for him to perform at the level the Premier League requires was too much for him, especially given the fact that many others his age were earning playing time while Memphis sat comfortably on the bench.
He has a certain efficiency in his play currently absent with United’s frontmen. Memphis possesses the ability to draw defenders out of their position, catching them off-guard to dart around and fire directly towards goal. One of the more stunning concerns with the Red Devils as of late is the deficiency in the midfield to create strong chances for the forwards to finish. United are flush with free-kick specialists, but one more wouldn’t hurt.
At 24, Memphis Depay has emerged as the player many clubs set their sights on, and his time at Old Trafford was sorely cut short. At a time when Manchester United’s manager has openly acknowledged that the club is struggling to buy “top, top players,” the Reds should consider a reunion with one of their former recruits.