Euros Schmeuros…. I’m watching a lot of games, keen to see a moment of brilliance of Modric, Bale, Ozil or Dembele. So far, it was not great. Some good stuff here and there. Shaqiri’s goal, Ozil little flicks, Bale’s runs, Iniesta’s allround game. But also dreadful football at times. Wales – Northern Ireland… what a drama. Never seen such a bad game of football ever at this level… And then to think we are not there…. Aaaarggh…
But, we’ll need to drink the poisonous chalice all the way, I guess.
And with all that, we also have to face the fact that the hope of the Nation – Memphis Depay – has reached a big low and we are all keen to see that he will come out of it…
Benched for Oranje, on the stands in Manchester, ridiculed by the fans… Once touted as the biggest talent of the country since a long time, he has now lived through a year of self doubt, criticism and disappointments… Where did it go wrong? Will it ever come good?
The loud music is blaring from the big speakers. On the big screen, we see amazing footage of the biggest athletes on the planet. Awesome coverage of sports heroes, all winning and sweating in sports apparel by Under Armour. Lindsey Vonn, Michael Phelps, Andy Murray, Jordan Spieth…
Adrienne Lofton is the CEO of this massive American brand and she flew to London to personally introduce the special guest to the audience. The guest of honour is The New Face of international football, she says, proudly… She is talking about someone who “perfectly represents the brand”. A young super star and the face of the new marketing campaign. “Ladies and gentlemen, here he is… MEMPHIS!”…
The player walks onto the state in The Bike Shed, a glorious venue in East London, capital of hipsters, slick ad execs and filthy rich creatives… It is late February 2016 and Man United won that night in a match 0-3 versus Shrewsbury Town in the FA Cup.
Memphis actually played the full 90 minutes again. The million dollar signing became a bench warmer at Old Trafford. The words “disappointment” and “failure” have been used a couple of times already in the English media. The Dutchman struggles. With himself, and with the ball, for months already and his credit with Van Gaal seems to have dissipated.
At the end of the evening, Memphis muses about his situation. “This is a tough phase to be in. Making mistakes is terrible. But… I just have to remain confident and believe it will make me a better player. This is the only thing I can do: work hard, keep focus and believe in myself.”
Memphis is sipping on a bottle of water, leaning against a table. You don’t need a PhD in psychology to know he is not comfortable. He signed the Under Armour contract in his last season with PSV, when it was clear he was going to go far. Under Armour saw him as the perfect face for years to come. The new C Ronaldo, Beckham, Ljungberg… Memphis was honoured and saw this line of fashion befitting to him. It matched his personality. Kees Ploegsma, former PSV manager and his agent, expected that this partnership would work and advised the youngster to commit. Memphis, a lad of extremes. A player who wants to become the best on the planet. A super star in the making.
Ploegsma: “We manage the affairs of Cillesen and Strootman too… But we make different decisions for them, scout different options for them. They’re different than Memphis. Or maybe, Memphis is different to them… Memphis is an all or nothing kinda guy. He loves that.”
But, these sort of things will work against you if it becomes nothing. There is no way Memphis can duck out. He signed a contract with a billion dollar company. The brand is key. Contract is contract.
Nothing works. Every action he starts ends in clumsy loss of possession. A stray pass? It can happen. A dribble being stopped. Sure. But at some stage, Memphis is wrestling with the ball, trying to keep it under control. A typical sign the player is lacking all confidence. He looks lacklustre. Without inspiration. His season seems to end in style, in a way, in a dramatic friendly between Oranje and Ireland. The cocky youngster seems to come to grips with this phase in his career and is vulnerable and open in an interview just some days before. “Oh yes, I had periods I doubted myself. But, those are now behind me.”
Memphis’ problem is that no one seems to have an eye for his vulnerability. He is the big summer signing of Man United. He accepted the legendary jersey #7. He is the lad buying the Rolls Royce. The arrogant star who refused to speak to the media. And…he also wears a hat at times! A hat!! How dare he? And he taunts and debates with the 101 times capped international Robin van Persie. He created his own reputation of course, but no one seems to care for the young player who struggles with self doubt and expectations. A player, desperately looking for some confidence.
Memphis is looking for words. And when he does, he tends to look into the distance. He is looking for words. And uses hip hop terms and streetjive, such as “ya know?” and “crib” and “positive vibes”. He speaks the language of the big cities in Holland. Robin van Persie, ironically, was one of the first to show of his street lingo, when he was a young player. The masses watching tv don’t like it. The papa mamas in Hierden, the kids in Loenen or the labourers in Enschede… it makes him distant and otherwordly. But Van Persie survived this stage. Hopefully Memphis will too. Memphis is in Rotterdam, he’s been given a couple of days off and he decides to go for a big interview with Algemeen Dagblad. The interview is like pulling teeth for him. A good friend says: “Memphis is very open, very outspoken and generous… But you need to win his trust first. He will always assess the situation before he allows people a look in. From when he was young, he had to deal with this. He is hurt a lot, as a kid. Damaged. That makes him a bit detached… ” But, after a while, he starts to open up. And speaks with detail and in a calm fashiong about his motivations and the contradictions in his personality. And he tries to find the reason for his insatiable appetite for fame and success. He talks about his love-hate relationship with the spotlights…. sometimes loathing the attention and sometimes actively looking for it.
It becomes a long interview, a fascinating talk, and mainly due to the somewhat scruffy portrait Memphis paints of himself. “I demand of myself that I am 100% there from the get go. I think that is the street in me… Don’t fail! Failure is NOT an option!” Another soundbite: “I don’t know what it is but I loathe being mediocre. I cannot be mainstream. The middle of the road is not my thing. You get hit by a car in the middle of the road…”
About his extraverted hobbies. “Some people collect stamps. Some people are fanatical about WW2. Others have pigeons. I like fashion. I like new things, art, beauty. This is what makes me feel good. If I would have to wear what others want me to wear, I’d be unhappy. I wouldn’t be me.”
Memphis is walking on the pitch of Wembley. No football boots. Normal shoes. He congratulates and cuddles with his team mates who just won the FA Cup. After he saw all the players, he crosses paths with Louis van Gaal. The coach who didn’t pick him for the match squad. Van Gaal puts his arm around Memphis’ shoulder. A clumsy hug follows. It is the last episode of a relationship gone wrong. Van Gaal was the coach who allowed Depay to make his debut in Oranje, he paid millions for him to get him into a ManU jersey and he put him in the starting line up for months. An insider: “Louis van Gaal has a narcissistic trait. People with this disorder will support people who do what they say, support what they say and play along with the tricks. Once a player talks back or shows his lack of commitment to the behaviour of the narcist, things can unravel really quickly.” This seems to have happened with Memphis and Louis. Something happened. And as a result, Memphis was out of grace. He does have some decent turns as a sub but almost the same number of sub-turns amount to nothing. With crucial loss of possession even. He does play a sensational game against Midtjylland and the hope returns to Old Trafford… Would it start now?
But, Van Gaal doesn’t use Memphis in big games anymore. Once Louis’ love is gone, it won’t ever return, it seems. Some people say Van Gaal doesn’t like all the off-pitch shenanigans of Memphis. The cars, the sponsor deals, the hats… But insiders say it’s not like that. Van Gaal couldn’t care less if Memphis would perform, he can wear the suit of Big Bird on his days off. Insiders claim that Memphis wants to play his own game. And isn’t coachable as Van Gaal wants to see it. Interestingly, most ManU players seem to have difficulties with Van Gaal’s tight straightjacket approach. Fellaini, Rooney, Carrick, Januzaj, Herreira… most players want to have some more freedom on the pitch. Memphis probably first in the line to need this…
But there were no complaints at Man United – from Van Gaal, Giggs or anyone else – about his work ethic and focus. The player has his own nutritionist, his own mental coach, he asked for more hours on the practice field and selected a very quiet suburb in Manchester to live. Away from the spotlights.
Memphis and Van Gaal did not have a break up due to his (Memphis’ or Louis’) antics. Louis knew what he was dealing with. But Louis left Memphis out because Martial simply was better on his position. And the more the pressure mounted, the more Memphis tried to make every single ball contact count. He became too focused on doing something special. A trick, a dribble, a shot in the top corner, a shimmy… He wanted to give the fans what they needed and craved for. And obviously, whenever he failed, it meant loss of possession. The risk in his game would become too high. Van Gaal needed wins over performance and went with players who played simple. Ashley Young became a relief striker because he only does what he does well. Memphis succumbed under the pressure of the expectations, the transfer fee and his obsession to be special.
But, at the same time, Memphis started to become more and more frustrated with the philosophy of his coach. And with him, other players as well. Rooney, De Gea, Carrick, Schneiderlin, Herreira… Control and discipline were key. The Dutch coach constantly focused on keep possession, no risk, tactical tasks and as a result the creativity and intuition and impulse disappeared from Man United’s game.
So, add all this to the fact that any player needs to adjust to the English league, and the causes for his disappointing first season are there. “It wasn’t a great season, but it also wasn’t a terrible one,” he said himself.
Incoming ManU coach has his own ideas. He also is not a figure-head of beautiful football (although Van Gaal used to be). The Overrated One believes in winning. The centre back type that is Daley Blind doesn’t fit in his philosophy. In his teams, he always used to “destroyers” in the center defence. He doesn’t want tactically strong but physically light players with good ball and passing skills.
He will get millions to throw around, but there is a fair chance that most players will still be at Old Trafford once Jose starts. The rumours that Memphis will have to go are simply just rumours for now. Because Mourinho does like “characters”. He will play compact and will need speed up front. Memphis is a perfect player for a more counter-attacking game plan.Memphis is not the greatest in confined space. He needs space to use his skills and his golden right foot.
Memphis will have a couple of weeks to fight for his future at Manchester United. The fans and the media are done with him. It will be all or nothing. Exactly like Memphis wants it….