Out to prove Mourinho wrong: Manchester United reject Memphis Depay shining with Lyon
A derided figure in England due to his eccentric dress sense and failure to produce on the field, the Dutchman is looking at home in France
The ball arced high into the air and dropped over the head of goalkeeper Alban Lafont without even bouncing as it found its way into the net, yet Memphis Depay was not to know that as he was moving away from goal as it happened.
Only the roar of the crowd told the Dutchman that he had just executed one of the best goals of the season – a strike he would later describe as “the best of his life” – finding the net from the halfway line to cap Lyon’s 4-0 win over Toulouse in Ligue 1.
It was an effort that was reminiscent of the moment David Beckham made his breakthrough as a Manchester United star. For Memphis, however, is was a sign of redemption after a difficult spell at Old Trafford.
Two months ago, the notion of Memphis Depay scoring one of the goals of the season was laughable.
The 23-year-old Dutchman was lucky to be on the bench for the Red Devils, yet Jose Mourinho was adamant that he would not be sold.
Lyon tested the English side’s resolve with a bid of £16 million and were rewarded with the former PSV player’s signature. It was a deal that was treated with derision in France, where it was expected that he would prove an expensive flop, just as he had done at Old Trafford.
His first handful of performances seemed to bear that out. Indeed, when he was jeered off the field following an utterly anonymous display against local rivals Saint-Etienne in a 2-0 defeat, his slide out of the spotlight seemed set to continue.
Memphis’ luck, however, was about to change
Three days later, dropped to the bench for a match against lowly Nancy, he got his chance prematurely as Mathieu Valbuena, his replacement, picked up a knock. It was the spark required to rejuvenate the player, as he won a penalty early in the second half and then scored a goal of his own within 10 minutes.
In the aftermath, Lyon announced via social media channels that the jersey the player was wearing would be retained in the club museum for safe keeping – an announcement greeted by ridicule by the media and rival fans.
It seems, though, that Lyon may well get the last laugh, for the Depay who has played since is the one that United hoped they were signing when they paid nearly £30m from PSV.
Billed as one of the most exciting young players in the world when Louis van Gaal signed him, Depay started brightly at Old Trafford but served only to disappoint. He ultimately became too predictable, and once his confidence waned there was little prospect of earning the game time he required to get it back.
Life not easier off the field
His dress sense was even criticised, with former Netherlands and Barcelona star Ronald de Boer star claiming he lacked maturity and drew attention to himself needlessly.
"He has his skills but perhaps he could be smarter at times. When people expect you to do things and you don't deliver, don't do other things to attract attention,” he told Sport360. “[Dortmund striker] Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, I saw him in a blue suit, an ugly one in which he looked like a clown, but it is accepted because he is scoring goals, so everyone laughs about it.
"But if you are not scoring goals and playing bad, people will say he is thinking more about his clothes or whatever. They have to be smart, you really have to work.”
Arrival of Mourinho and the end of the Old Trafford days
Mourinho’s arrival at Old Trafford in the summer only worsened the youngster’s problems. Indeed, he managed a mere 20 Premier League minutes – 79 in all competitions – this season before he was offloaded.
“There was criticism of his game, I understand that. With his qualities, he needed to play more,” former PSV team-mate Georginio Wijnaldum, now of Liverpool, told AD. “Memphis trains incredibly hard, and he also has everything to reach the top.”
Lyon have provided him the stage to shine, and the signs are that Depay will make United regret their decision.
Since arriving in France, the Dutchman has received the bullish backing of outspoken Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas, who constructed a great dynasty at the Rhone club thanks to his shrewd manoeuvres in the transfer market and intelligent use of the youth system.
Memphis certainly falls into the former category and has thrived after receiving the kind of backing he was bereft of in England.
“We’ve bet on a player who wants to show his immense talent,” Aulas told RMC when a deal was imminent. “There was a lot of interest in him from his time with Holland and in Eindhoven, where he had two fantastic seasons. When you see him developing, you get the impression that he really wants to show his immense talent.”
These words contrast greatly to those used by the player to describe his final weeks in Manchester.
“Of course, I didn't understand Mourinho’s choices, but he was the boss,” he told beIN Sports. “I had to accept those choices. I think I was not good enough for him. But it's okay, I'm showing my quality here.
“I'll be back to the top and we'll see what will happen.”
Only time will tell whether Memphis can reach his potential, but he has made a strong start with the Europa League hopefuls. It is just a pity for him that ineligibility will prevent a potential chance for revenge against Mourinho in Europe – for this season at least.