Memphis Depay has not had a straightforward career path. The twenty-six-year-old has had a career of explosive promise marred by setbacks and injury, and his trajectory has been anything but simple.
His formative years at PSV Eindhoven marked him out as his country’s brightest young talents. He mixed devastating speed with ball at feet, a vicious right foot and a hungry winning mindset. Depay scored thirty-nine goals in just ninety league games in the Netherlands, and soon had the attentions of Europe’s elite.
Louis van Gaal’s first season as Manchester United coach had been largely unfulfilling, with an attack heavy team failing to gel and play to their worth. Loan signing Radamel Falcao flopped, and British record signing Angel Di Maria departed unceremoniously in 2015 after just one season in England. The number seven shirt was free again.
Difficulties at Old Trafford
How to fill such a void as Di Maria’s, not just on the pitch but also in his profile as a marquee attraction? Van Gaal made his first action of the 2015/16 season to bring his fellow Dutchman Depay to Old Trafford, assigning him the number seven shirt. That of Best, Robson, Beckham and Ronaldo.
The club’s identity is built on attracting talent and turning them into superstars. No one personifies that better than Ronaldo. In signing Depay at such a tender age, it seemed that the left-wing bloodline would be continued.
It wasn’t to be. In signing Anthony Martial later that summer, it seemed United were never truly invested in Depay’s development. Two league goals across as many seasons further vindicates this, and Jose Mourinho’s appointment in 2016 saw him make just four substitute appearances that season. Lyon came calling in January 2017, and Depay was gone.
The scale of this rise and fall would to most be the unravelling of a young player. Depay was still yet to turn twenty-three, but the nature of modern football is such that few reclimb the ladder to reach their potential in such a manner.
Three and a half years later, Depay is Lyon captain and a Champions League semi-finalist. Lyon’s unlikely run to the last four was propelled by his scoring in six consecutive matches in the competition. This is a joint record for a Dutchman.
He had scored nine goals in twelve league appearances before a horrific knee injury cut short his season and required surgery. Once again it seemed Depay’s career was to be cruelly interrupted. However, the curtailed season, and consequential moving of the Champions League to a two-week knockout tournament in late August, allowed Depay to take his moment.
Lyon’s unlikely run to the last four of the competition served as a metaphor for Depay’s own career. They had spent the last five years bringing through talent to steal the domestic title back from PSG. However, they were slowly pillaged of the likes of Lacazette, Tolisso, Umtiti and Fekir.
Yet despite the setbacks and numerous managerial changes, they stand as one of the competition’s best four teams. Not as glamorous nor marketable as others in the league, their grit and nous in the key moments made them a deadly competitor.
With Depay as their leader the club have restored a reputation. As has Depay himself, who may yet interest one of the elites again one day soon.