Memphis Depay: Manchester United's true heir to the No.7 shirt?
On Tuesday night, Champions League football returned to Old Trafford after a 16-month hiatus. A season out of the prestigious and, more importantly, lucrative club competition was a huge blow to a club of Manchester United’s stature. A year and £230m in transfer spending later, under the tutelage of Louis van Gaal, United are on the cusp of dishing it out amongst the big boys of Europe again.
But first, there remains the matter of getting past Belgian League runners-up, Club Brugge. The gravity of this tie cannot be overestimated; Van Gaal himself billed this playoff as his two ‘’biggest individual games’’ so far in his fledgling foray into English football. Another year out of the Champions League would be devastating for the United faithful and club hierarchy alike, thus there was immense pressure on Wayne Rooney’s men to deliver in the first leg at Old Trafford.
They delivered in spades. United were winners on the night and with a 3-1 scoreline to boot, a sizeable advantage that should see them through, given they finish the job in Belgium next week. However, it is fairly safe to say that United have one foot in the Champions League group stages at this point.
Memphis Depay steps up for Manchester United
The chief architect of this result and inarguably the finest player on the night was 21-year-old Memphis Depay, the latest sensation at Old Trafford and current holder of the iconic United No.7 jersey – one of the most vaunted in world football. A player that cost the Red Devils a hefty £22m and next in line to stake his claim on the throne that has been vacant since a certain Cristiano Ronaldo departed the shores of Manchester way back in 2009. So is he the prince that was promised or another name in a long list of pretenders?
Memphis is the real deal. He is a genuinely exciting talent who proved that he can step up when the team needs him to. It is one of the defining hallmarks of a truly special player; the ability to stand up and deliver when the chips are down. And thanks to an uncharacteristic lapse in concentration from Michael Carrick, the chips were definitely down.
His 13th minute equaliser was a thing of beauty, a near perfect harmony of power and precision. That goal brought United roaring back into what was, all things considered, a must-win match. The No.7 continued to torment the Brugge backline and scored another fantastic goal at the stroke of half-time to hand United the lead.
Receiving the pass on the left wing and cutting in with his favoured right foot, he unleashed a powerful curler that found itself at the bottom right corner of the goal within milliseconds. A 21-year-old Ronaldo would have been proud of that goal. Hell, the Ronaldo of today, world beater extraordinaire, would have been proud of that goal.
More so than the quality of the goals, it was their timing and importance to the cause at hand that calls for appreciation. Constantly running at defenders, taking them on and beating them, some deft touches, goals, that key assist to Fellaini with a ridiculous curler – Memphis unfurled his full bag of tricks last night and it was a sight to behold.
He is not perfect though. His Fernando Torres-esque miss after Wayne Rooney’s delightful back flick underlined that fact. At the age of 21, he has plenty of time to fine tune his game and establish himself as a bona fide superstar.
Do United finally have a replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo in Memphis Depay?
Memphis announced himself to the Old Trafford faithful with a dazzling display. And the fans will adore him and be right behind him in the matches ahead. He has the confidence of his manager and teammates and he has the ability. Now, all he needs is performances like these on a consistent basis, and against better quality opposition.
Will he be the force at United that Ronaldo was? Who knows, but what he did prove last night was that he can be; a fine achievement considering the nascent nature of his United career.
Yes, these are early days. Yes, this was only the third game of the season. But this kid brought his A-game to Old Trafford last night, and he did it with the panache that we expect and demand from a No. 7. It’s a wonderful feeling to see a young and exhilarating winger run down the flank at Old Trafford, bringing an X-factor that has been sorely lacking in United teams of recent past.
Maybe he will completely tank in the next couple of games or maybe he will score a hat-trick. We don’t know. But for now, he has given the fans plenty to be optimistic about.
He may or may not be the second coming of Ronaldo; only time will determine that. But he is undoubtedly a talent worthy of attention and appreciation – a prodigy that might be Prince.