Some shirt numbers in football are quite iconic. They stand out from the rest. The fans flock to buy them – and understandably so with the glorious history behind some of these special shirts in football. Manchester United’s number seven certainly falls into that category of prestigious shirts previously worn by the likes of George Best and Bryan Robson to Eric Cantona and the more recent football/fashion icons David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo. But in recent years, this theory has taken a hit with a few completely failing or, to put it brusquely, incapable, to hit the levels of their predecessors while others have been unable to cope with the pressure of wearing it.
In Memphis Depay’s case, it is rather interestingly, neither of the two. He is someone that relishes the big stage, made his name in the Dutch league for PSV Eindhoven, winning the league there with him playing the talisman role almost week in week out. His numbers were ridiculous for a youngster which undoubtedly attracted interest from a host of European clubs with Manchester United and Louis Van Gaal emerging successful roughly this time last year.
From an outsiders point of view, his first season at Manchester United fell well short of anyone’s expectations – all the more so, his own. The drop in numbers has been telling in that he has been about 10% of the player he was at PSV Eindhoven in the season before and I’m being kind here mind you, but football fans are generally not. But anyone that is associated with the club could point to several reasons as to why this has been the case – while a few of those definitely not under his control.
The Dutchman made his debut for United in the opening game against Spurs in the league. He was a bit showy, if you could recall, trying perhaps a bit too hard to win the fans over – but sadly this has been the story since. After twenty eight appearances in the league, Memphis Depay still plays like an under 16 that is called up at the last moment to play in an under 21 game – overwhelmed to the point of being unsure what to do when on the ball, against half decent opposition.
But what is not talked about is the way he has been handled by the manager who is famed for grooming and developing young footballers. It was he, who had made the decision, to bring the Dutchman in, who he called ‘the best talent of his generation’ not long ago. How does that justify his management of the player which can be described as atrocious at best? Depay has made 28 appearances in the league, yet has managed to play the full 90 minutes only 10 times. And the timing of some of those decisions have not helped his confidence either.
It’s not to say that Memphis is faultless. Of course, there have been games when he could have done more – more recently the game against Norwich where he was allowed to play the whole ninety minutes and he did nothing of note. He was dropped to the bench in the following defeat against West Ham United and it looks increasing unlikely that he would be involved in the remaining game. From scoring 22 goals in 30 league games in the Netherlands, he’s managed to score two for United this campaign with his last goal in the league coming against Watford in November.
It’s no coincidence that his best games under Van Gaal have come in Europe against rank average sides. His best individual performance was against Midtjylland which showcased all his abilities, so much so that one could make a highlights DVD out of it. The common thread that runs through his best individual games is the fact that United were allowed to play like United in all of those games. They were given the freedom and license to express themselves – something Van Gaal has done only in a handful of games.
It’s also not a coincidence that a world class player with a wealth of European experience under the belt like Angel Di Maria miserably failed at United. Nor can the following be a freak statistic that reads United have only managed to score as many goals as Sunderland (46) in the league with only a game to go. On this note, Memphis Depay probably deserves another chance to bed in at Manchester United and play to his maximum potential, which I believe, could take him to the very top of the football tree.
But not under the man who he considers his father-figure.