It’s February 7th, PSV 1 – 0 FC Utrecht, the 51st minute of the game. Memphis Depay, who only minutes earlier pre-assisted the opener in a tough fixture for the Eindhovenaren, receives the ball on the edge of his own half. A pass to Luuk de Jong, on to Georginio Wijnaldum, who attempts a through ball that just falls short of the waiting Luciano Narsingh. Or so it seems, because of all of a sudden it is Depay who bursts into the open gap, picking up the ball and takes it past his man, accelerates and finishes. 2-0. FC Utrecht get back into the game with 20 minutes spare, but in injury time, it’s Depay again who is decisive, sealing the deal with a free kick after a foul he won himself.
When Memphis Depay has his day, it’s likely not to be anyone else’s, such is the impact the youngster can make in a game. The game versus FC Utrecht encapsulated the rare combination of weapons the Moordrecht-born has in his arsenal and it’s a well-filled one too; the vision to pre-assist the first, the composure, pace and power to score the second, and the discipline and specialist talent to drill in the third. It comes as no surprise that of all Eredivisie players in 2014-15, Depay won his side the most points.
‘No Memphis no party’ would sell the Eindhoven side short, as PSV strolled the league with an impressive club record 88 points, dropping only 14 in the process. But it is telling that in the five games he didn’t play, including PEC Zwolle away when he was hauled off after 18 minutes due to injury, six of those 14 points were dropped. Within 24 months, Memphis Depay has gone from a benchwarmer under Dick Advocaat to the most expensive Eredivisie transfer since 2001, coincidentally following the exact same road an illustrious Dutchman, Jaap Stam, had then taken before him.
That’s not to say Memphis Depay is the finished article. The 21-year-old still has many inefficient moments that will leave his admirers frustrated, a criticism that has been levelled at him many times ever since he made his debut in September 2011, scoring twice in a Dutch Cup tie versus the amateurs of VVSB. In those days, his then- manager Fred Rutten told him to quit recording rap songs (a habit of young Dutch footballers) and focus on his career, as he was something special in the making.
Rutten’s successor Dick Advocaat wanted to loan him out to gain some match experience, as the current Sunderland manager did not deem him ready for the big stage of the Philips Stadion. A view not shared by the PSV board, it must be stressed, who felt Advocaat was a bit too careful with their diamond in the rough.The big breakthrough came in 2013-14 when Phillip Cocu became the head coach and decided to rely on Depay and Zakaria Bakkali (now at Valencia) for his wing play. The two were both mesmerising and frustrating, but whereas Bakkali fell away, Depay grew into his role as one of Cocu’s main men. By the end of the season, the moments of despair for the PSV-fans became less frequent, whereas fear among opponents grew.
Louis van Gaal included the youngster in his World Cup 2014 squad and was told by many it could be too soon. But Van Gaal saw his trust repaid as the then 20-yearold made his name known in the tournament, becoming the youngest ever Dutch goal scorer at a World Cup, scoring (and assisting) against Australia (3-2). After the tournament it was clear Depay would leave the Eredivisie sooner rather than later, so swift had his progress been.
When in August he announced his contract renewal, together with Georginio Wijnaldum, in a final attempt to try and win the Eredivisie with PSV, all of Eindhoven sighed a breath of relief. The rest of the Netherlands, on the other hand, knew a storm was coming. Memphis made his mark, scoring eight goals in his first seven games of the season and assisting three other before an injury temporarily hampered the presentation of what one could describe as Memphis 2.0. When after a month he returned, he scored in four consecutive games to emphasize his new-found level.By the end of the season, Memphis had scored an impressive 28 goals in 40 appearances. With 22 of those coming in the league, Depay finished top goal scorer in the Eredivisie – from the left forward position. In doing so he became the youngest top goal scorer in the league since Ronaldo in 1996. Memphis had played an essential part in PSV’s first title win since 2008 and with the mission completed, the queue of clubs willing to take the youngster off of PSV’s hands was endless. But it soon became clear that there could be only one destination.
Van Gaal had told Depay right after the World Cup that another year of Eredivisie would do him good, but that in the end he and Manchester United would come for him. In Van Gaal’s eyes, Memphis was destined to become a Red. And even before Manchester United had ensured Champions League (qualifying) football, a deal was struck between the clubs and the player.
So far so good for the youngster, who was the Eredivisie’s sole true superstar in the 2014-15 season. Memphis has drawn comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo due to his impressive physique, his relentless will to become a better player, his explosiveness, his dribbling ability, his finishing, his free kicks and lest not forget, his marketability. Just like his Portuguese predecessor, Memphis has had a difficult childhood. But more importantly, he has shown himself a talent of the highest calibre. At 21, the Dutch international has the skills, the looks, the persistence and the savviness to become at United what many see him becoming in future years: a global modern sports superstar.
This article was taken from the RoM 2015-16 season preview. All profits go to Trafford Macmillan.