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Football News: Transfer Flops 2: Memphis From PSV To A Disunited Manchester

Transfer Flops 2: Memphis From PSV To A Disunited Manchester
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Transfer Flops Number 2 - Memphis Depay From PSV To A Disunited Manchester

 

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Memphis Depay was born to Dutch mother Cora Schensema and Ghanaian father Denis Depay. When he was just 4, his father walked out on him and that has led to his choice to wear Memphis on the back of his shirt. By the age of 8, playing for VV Moordrecht, Memphis was already a standout player and impressed scouts watching for Sparta Rotterdam and he joined them in 2003. There he was a star according to Sparta's chairman: "Memphis was as a young player already complete. He was two-footed and strong. If we won 7-0, he scored five times and assist two times."

Whether that was in spite of his home life or because of it, we will probably never know, but football was his refuge in these days as his mother fell in love with a neighbour and moved in with him. Cora's new boyfriend already had children, many children, who delighted in tormenting and beating young Memphis to the point where he would hide under his desk at school crying, terrified of going home. He became an angry child and began hanging round with the wrong crowd, but he still had football and he joined PSV Eindhoven in 2006. He had the choice of Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord but took his Ajax-supporting grandfather's advice and chose PSV.

Despite his problems, he had begun drinking at the age of 12, was dealing in soft drugs, hanging round with cocaine dealers and, like many abused children, would look to take out his pain on others. His talent made PSV more tolerant of his problems than they maybe would have been and they hired mental coach Joost Leenders to help him. Leenders remains a confidante to this day and is still someone Memphis turns to when he needs to talk. A friend helped him and his mother escape from the abusive neighbour and PSV moved him in with a host family.

Memphis struggled to make friends in the academy, he was branded by one PSV coach as "very angry" and he was still getting in trouble. At the age of 15 he was expelled and, unusually for the Netherlands, he never went back to school. PSV's chief scout Rini de Groot admitted he worried about the youngster: "Of course I sometimes worried about his behaviour but his topsportmentaliteit [top sports mentality] was wonderful." It was not long before the youngster was moved into the first team squad, where he again struggled to make friends and was widely disliked initially.

In 2011 he was part of the Netherlands U-17 European Champions before, in September 2011, he made his official PSV debut, in a Dutch Cup second round match against amateur team VVSB. PSV won 8-0 away. It was a few months before Memphis made his bow in the Eredivisie as a late substitute against Feyenoord. Then, a month after that in March 2012 he scored his first goal in the league six minutes after replacing Dries Mertens in a 5-1 win over Heerenveen. That season saw him make 8 appearances in the league, all were as a substitute but Mertens still managed to score three times.

In June 2012 Memphis signed his first professional contract, which ran until 2017 and he made 20 appearances that season, with two from the start, though he only scored twice. 2013 was a year of firsts, in July Memphis scored his first European goal in a Champions League qualifying tie, smashing the ball into the top corner in a 2-0 win over Zulte Waregem. In October he picked up his first sending of, with two yellow cards, after assisting PSV's goal in a 2-1 defeat to Roda JC. It was also the year of his senior debut for the Netherlands.

The following summer Louis van Gaal took him to the 2014 World Cup and Memphis helped Holland to 3rd place with two goals, despite some run-ins with Robin van Persie. Memphis was being linked to clubs such as Manchester United, Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal in the media, but it did not affect his play in the slightest as Phillip Cocu made him an integral part of his PSV team. Memphis repaid Cocu's faith by starring for PSV as they won their first Eredivisie title since 2008.

In fact Memphis played so well he was top scorer in the Eredivisie, with 22 goals in 30 games, won Dutch Footballer of the Year, was statistically rated the best free kick taker in Europe and France Football named him Best Young Player in the World in the list of Top 50 players aged 21 and under. Interest in him was huge and Arsenal failed in a bid, Memphis rejected another offer from Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool held talks with PSV about him, though Brendan Rodgers tried to deny he was interested in signing him.

Instead it was Louis van Gaal's Man Utd that stepped in and agreed a £25m fee. Van Gaal said that he had been "forced" to step in earlier than he wanted as Paris Saint-Germain began to show interest. He was United's 4th signing from PSV, following in the footsteps of Jaap Stam, Park Ji-Sung and Ruud van Nistelrooy. Unfortunately, the 21-year-old was unable to match the success of those whose footsteps he followed in.

"This is a dream come true for me; to play for the biggest club in the world and also the chance to work with someone who I believe is the best manager in the world, Louis van Gaal. I have great belief in my ability and I work hard to achieve my dreams." - Memphis

Memphis asked for, and got, the number 7 shirt, but he found it difficult to establish himself, even as early as his Premier League debut Memphis found his manager did not appreciate the way he played. It was a 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford and he was taken off after 68min because, in van Gaal's words, he was playing in 'too eager' a manner. Ten days later Memphis scored his first goal, and his second, as well as getting his first assist in a Man Utd shirt, as the Red Devils beat Club Brugge 3-1 in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League play-off.

After struggling early on Memphis told De Telegraaf: "There are a lot of games in Manchester. There are very few rest days and on training days you are mainly concerned with recovering. It's heavy, two games a week, always at a high level and my body has to get used to that." Immediately Louis van Gaal and Ryan Giggs jumped on those comments publicly and hit out at the youngster, blaming his 'flashy lifestyle' for his poor form and van Gaal warned Memphis not to follow Di Maria's path.

That flash lifestyle of Memphis's has become almost legendary and blamed for everything that went wrong, especially after Wayne Rooney said: "He came on at Stoke away and he messed up for their goal and he only played 15 minutes, so Louis van Gaal told him he was playing for the reserves the next day. So, after the game, I just said: 'Look, it's going to be a bit difficult for you. Just don't come in with all your fancy stuff.' The reserve game was at Altrincham's ground and he turned up for it in his Rolls-Royce, wearing a red leather jacket and a cowboy hat. And I just thought, 'What's the point?'"

Except that on closer examination, his flashy lifestyle consisted of the cars and clothes as Memphis was lonely and unhappy in Manchester, having had to leave most of his friends and all of his family behind. He had just one friend who moved over with him, Gigi, and he would come home after training and sit around the house bored and then drive aimlessly around the countryside at night. Hardly the flashy lifestyle the likes of Giggs had at the same age, when they would be in the same nightclubs as Liverpool's 'Spice Boys' all night long. Somehow Memphis has become the icon of all that is wrong with modern football.

This is despite him trying to do extra training to improve himself, after team training had finished: "One time I wanted to work on my left and crossed, so I was doing extra training with Giggsy. He (van Gaal) called me into his office and said, 'Why are you training?' I said I wanted to improve my cross with my left foot. He said your crosses are already good, it's in your head." Hardly the actions of a lad that is too flash to make a success of his career in Manchester, nor, for that matter, the attitude of a manager who can nurture a young player's talent.

Whatever the real reason was for his problems, Memphis struggled to hold down a place. He did manage a start versus Watford, as Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney were both unavailable, and scored a goal as well as being awarded man of the match, but it was not enough to force his way into the team on a long-term basis. Van Gaal did give him starts in the two Europa League matches against FC Midtjylland in February 2016, where he excelled. Whoscored.com gave his performance in the home leg a rating of 10 out of 10 and Midtjylland defender Andre Remer said afterwards: "I've never been so close to crying after a match as I was today. Memphis is the best player I have ever faced. He is the best. He can do anything." Even van Gaal was impressed enough to hail it as a "turning point" for Memphis.

Despite that Memphis was struggling to get near the team: "I got confused. I had to follow the tactical orders of van Gaal, otherwise I would certainly lose my spot in the team. Van Gaal doesn't like players who don't follow up on his comments. Meanwhile I knew I couldn't get the best out of my play this way: staying on the left side of the field, running back and forth." By the time of the FA Cup final, Memphis was not even in the squad. It was Louis van Gaal's last game in charge of Man Utd, despite winning the cup, as he was sacked afterwards and Jose Mourinho replaced him.

"As a team, we didn't play great football and some things I don't understand. If you have talented young players, Anthony Martial, Luke Shaw and the others, they need freedom. It's not like you weren't allowed to dribble or anything. It was just the tasks you had. When you give some players too much information they think too much." - Memphis on playing for Louis van Gaal

It was no better for Memphis under Mourinho and he was still on the outside of the squad looking in, despite Mourinho defending his professionalism: "If somebody thinks he is not a great professional they are completely wrong." In the end it was clear that there was little option for Memphis and the best thing to do for both parties was for him to move on. After working with a data intel company, Memphis decided the best move for him would be to join Ligue 1 side Olympique Lyonnais and on 20 January 2017 he signed for the French club. The move to Lyon included both buy-back and sell-on clauses.

"I said to Mourinho 'you will see me at the top'. He said, 'Ok I hope that and I hope we will buy you back one day.' I never had a bad relationship with him. I saw everybody playing left wing except me, even Wayne Rooney. Rooney is, of course, a legendary player but not a winger. I don't blame the manager. Maybe he doesn't like my style of play. I love playing beautiful football, tricks and doing cheeky things. I don't know if that's his type of game." - Memphis

Since then Memphis has rebuilt his career, and built a music career as well, and he credits his time at United as helping him: "In the first season, I didn't contribute enough, but I really believe you need a year to succeed in the Premier League, it's the fastest league in the world. The second, I had my self-belief back, but I didn't play. It's then that you look at yourself in the mirror and you ask yourself a lot of questions: 'Am I not good enough?' It was really tough. To stay positive you have to be very strong mentally. That experience made me grow up and is useful to me today."

Memphis was certainly a different player with Lyon and impressed enough there to be awarded the captaincy. They even chose to forego a decent transfer fee from Barcelona to keep him for a final season. Next season he will get another chance at a massive club with ambitions to compete in European competition. This time he looks in a better place for his style of play: "I was convinced I could add something that wasn't there yet: creativity, boldness, moves. Manchester United is one of the biggest clubs in the world. In name. But for years they played football that put you to sleep." And that was probably the biggest issue he faced. The negative defensive football stifled a player used to attacking freedom. It is not so much a player failing as a scouting system failing to bring in the right player for the way the team were going to play.

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To read the previous article in this series Transfer Flops 1: Jo From Moscow To Manchester, click here.

Written by Tris Burke June 28 2021 16:45:22

 

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