Memphis Depay: From Manchester Utd reject to one of Europe's hottest forwards

Depay wasn't loved at Old Trafford, but he's finally come good

He could have turned up in something a little less eye-catching, but that was never Memphis Depay’s style.

Then Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney had advised the Dutchman, made to train with the reserves by Louis Van Gaal, to tone it down as he struggled to adapt to his new surroundings.

“Look, it’s a bit difficult [for you] - just don’t come in with all your fancy stuff,” Rooney told the under-fire winger. Typically, Depay turned up in a Rolls-Royce, wearing a leather jacket and a cowboy hat.

Depay made quite the impression during his time at Old Trafford, but not in the way it had been hoped. Handed the number seven shirt immediately after his £25 million move from PSV Eindhoven in the summer of 2015, he was billed as United’s next superstar, maybe even the natural successor to Cristiano Ronaldo at the club.

There were similarities to be drawn - both players were mercurial wingers capable of brilliance, whether it be through a mazy dribble, a long-range drive or a freekick, and both players had a certain self-confidence.

For Ronaldo, this self-confidence took him to the very top, but for Depay the public perception was very different. His self-confidence was widely seen as arrogance. Before Paul Pogba was criticised for the same thing, Depay was a target. Many took pleasure in seeing him flop in England.

Reaching the Potential

Now, though, Depay is finally showing signs of fulfilment. Going by his Instagram feed, he is still fond of a cowboy hat, sticking with his flamboyant style that grated with so many at Old Trafford, but the difference now is that he is producing the performances to match.

Depay is back on track to becoming the superstar he should have been.

Last season, he scored 22 times for Lyon, already boasting 10 goals in just 23 appearances for both club and country this season. He has been directly involved in 54 league goals since leaving Old Trafford - twice as many as any United player in the same timeframe.


There have been plenty of highlight reel moments - like his stunning freekick strike into the top corner against Amiens earlier this season, or his turn and shot from the centre circle in a game against Toulouse last season. Lyon have got the Depay Manchester United thought they were getting three years ago - a swaggering, Swiss Army Knife of a goal threat who can score from anywhere at any time.

To achieve this, Depay has made changes to his game, though. Those changes are most evident when he turns out for the Netherlands, for whom he has become an attacking hub under Ronald Koeman. Not so much a winger, but a winger and a centre forward all rolled into one, Depay has been front and centre of the Oranje resurgence over the past few months.

Koeman’s decision to use Depay as an out-and-out forward was prompted by necessity, with the Netherlands lacking a true central striker to lead the line, but this redeployment has added another dimension to the 24-year-old’s game, as France and Germany both discovered in the Nations League. It could be that, over time, Depay comes to be thought of as more of a forward than a winger.

In Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs De Ligt, the Netherlands have two up and coming talents to build their next great team around, but the rise of Depay as a genuine force is just as exciting. It might have taken him longer than anticipated to reach the top, but now that he’s at that level there is no ceiling to what Depay could achieve.

Return to United?

Should he continue in this vein, it won’t be long until Depay is being linked with the European elite once again. It has even been raised that a return to Man Utd could be on the cards, with Jose Mourinho implying that the Old Trafford club kept a buy-back clause on the Dutch winger.

“He was a fantastic professional, so if somebody thinks he didn’t work because he was not a great professional is totally wrong,” said the Portuguese following the sale of Depay to Lyon in January 2017.


“He is a kid that respected everyone, a kid that worked hard to have more chances, a kid that was frustrated because he was not getting that, but I only have good things to say about him. Potentially, he is a very good player. I think when Mr Van Gaal decided to buy him he did well. He knew him very well from the national team. He was very young in the World Cup when he had flashes of top quality, he was playing well in Holland.

"He didn’t succeed in these 18 months, but he is very young so I think it is very important for the club to keep control of this talent and we all wish he plays very, very at Lyon, and why not… he could come back because everyone here likes him.”

It’s those remarks that United wanted to “keep control” of Depay that has led many to deduce there is some sort of clause in the winger’s Lyon contract that could feasibly see him make a return to the Premier League. Even if Man Utd aren’t interested, Depay would surely attract no shortage of suitors should he decide to move on from Lyon.

Attitude Issues

Questions over his attitude persist. Just last month, Depay hit out at Lyon coach Bruno Genesio having been dropped for a game against Angers. “I do not always feel like I am a player who is respected,” the Dutchman said. “I do the job each time. I have to accept the decisions of the coach but I deserve more than this and I should be playing every match.”

More concerning was his body language and behaviour, sitting on the ball in a sulk rather than taking part in the team warm-up before the match. Genesio’s sarcastic comments following that game against Angers hinted at a real divide between player and manager.


“I want to apologise to Memphis,” said the Lyon boss. “I want to apologise for all the times you were late, to apologise for all the kit that you wear that does not belong to the club, to apologise for the way you conducted yourself during the warm-up against Angers, your lateness and your lack of effort. If you want to have a great career, you must have humility.”

The way Depay has performed since leaving Man Utd suggests that, at least on some level, he does have humility, even if Genesio can’t see it.

Kevin de Bruyne and Mohamed Salah, who also flopped in their first Premier League spell before returning to dominate the English game, have set a precedent for the Dutch winger to follow.

And now, with his Old Trafford experiences in his rearview mirror, he is following it. Complete with leather jacket and cowboy hat.