Memphis Depay has proven his talent but faces questions over attitude

Aditya Devavrat 10:00 16/11/2018
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Memphis Depay has been the star of this team.

Is Memphis Depay a world-beater or a problem child?

Ever since he made a big-money move to Manchester United in 2015 from PSV Eindhoven, Depay has been full of contradictions. He came into the Premier League having led PSV to their first league title in seven seasons, top-scoring in the Eredivisie with 22 goals. Handed the famous No7 shirt at United, he was compared to Cristiano Ronaldo, another winger who could score a truckload of goals as well as be a free-kick specialist.

Most of his set-pieces in United colours ended up in the wall or off target – emblematic of how he fizzled out at the club. When he left in January 2017, there were some sighs from United fans but few complaints. The talented Dutchman who had arrived as one of the world’s best young players lost his way.

He’s found it again in Lyon. In 2018, only Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and Luis Suarez have been involved in more club goals than Depay’s 29 (16 goals, 13 assists). His form at the end of last season was instrumental in Lyon returning to the Champions League.

Meanwhile, he’s again looking like the Netherlands’ brightest star, leading an Oranje resurgence after the team failed to qualify for Euro 2016 and this summer’s World Cup. Since the end of the doomed World Cup qualification campaign, Depay has scored six goals in 10 games and assisted a further two.

But no one was ever doubting Depay’s talent, only his mentality. Stories of his less-than-stellar attitude have become common ever since Wayne Rooney revealed one from his time as Depay’s teammate at United. After a disappointing performance in a loss to Stoke, where Depay had been responsible for one of the goals his side conceded, the then-manager Louis van Gaal forced him to play for the reserves the next day as punishment.

Rooney, the club captain, told Depay: “Just don’t come in with all your fancy stuff,” only for the youngster to show up for the reserves game “in his Rolls-Royce, wearing a leather jacket and a cowboy hat”.

Now, of course, Depay’s flashiness is as much a part of his personality as, say, Paul Pogba’s hairstyle. Given the way people have pushed back against criticism of the latter, it might be unfair to use it as an excuse to question Depay. But it does say something when a player is asked for some restraint by his captain, and fails to do so.

That incident has now become part of a narrative.

Depay was disgruntled earlier this season about being benched, against Angers, and after coming on to score the winner, lashed out by saying he felt disrespected. His reaction to being left out of the XI spoke volumes.

Reportedly, he sulked on the team bus before the game, long after his teammates went out to warm up, and when he finally joined them, he simply sat on a ball. This came after he had already ruffled feathers earlier in the week with an angry outburst after Lyon conceded a late equaliser in a Champions League fixture, shouting at his teammates – despite having been substituted for his own below-par display.

Manager Bruno Genesio gave Depay a thorough dressing-down after the Angers game, sarcastically apologising for the player’s lack of punctuality for training, lack of effort, and conduct in the warm-up, before saying, “If you want to have a great career, you must have humility.”

That doesn’t seem to be one of Depay’s virtues. And perhaps he will say his style has got him to where he is, knocking on the door of Europe’s elite again, and preparing to lead the Netherlands against world champions France and old foes Germany in the coming days.

He knows that United have a buy-back clause for him, and manager Jose Mourinho has spoken highly of him even after letting him go. Even if they don’t exercise that clause, his form for Lyon may soon attract offers from other top clubs.

The question is whether he’s truly worthy of them. This week, he can start answering that question.

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