We have seen many posts here on Memphis. About his rise to the top. About his tough childhood. His amazing skills, goals and stats and his incredible outfits. Yes, the latter has been a big thing in Dutch media, because… we have an opinion about literally everything.
The 28 year old is LVG’s hope in fearful days, but since his return after a 2 months absence, he has not been firing on all cylinders yet. Could we actually expect him to? But, Memphis believes he will improve and be ready to step up. “I have proven that I don’t need rhythm or even form, to play well in the next match.”
Oranje had a lot of possession against Qatar, but the ball pace was still too low. This is what made Oranje so wonderful to watch: good pace, lots of positioning chances, adventure, pressure… We didn’t see one decent attack – well maybe we saw a couple but not enough. But, Oranje qualified for the last 16 and is facing Team USA.
“I am very bad at watching a game from the bench. I’m even more nervous than. I don’t get nervous when I play. You have more control. Against Senegal and Ecuador, you see thinks that need to improve, but you can’t improve them. Medically speaking, it was unwise for me to start in those matches, but I always want to start and I can get a bit agitated when I don’t, hahaha.”
He did come on to the pitch, Louis van Gaal adamant to bring Memphis with some caution. “Getting onto the pitch after an hour or so is tough. Really is. The game has a flow, a pace and you need to quickly adapt. And in my role, I am a bit dependent on the balls I get, the way the others can play. Against Senegal, I had 3 touches in 15 minutes. That is debilitating for me. And then in the last stage, the ball comes into space, I can run with it and we end up scoring. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. You simply have less influence when you come onto the pitch in the second half.”
Against Qatar, he started. Finally. After 65 minutes he was rested but had a strong role in both goals. Overall, Van Gaal was high in his praise for Memphis, but the match was again quite disappointing.
Is it possible to play good football and to win?
Memphis: “Oh for sure, but it also depends on …what is good football? Some people love a team that dominates like Barcelona plays. Others like swift counter attacking teams, or teams that really do physical battle. But yes, I think we can all agree our match v Ecuador was below standards. We are all football fans ourselves and we are not satisfied.”
What is the solution?
“That is in the details, it’s subtle. The moments in which you can get away from your marker. Offering yourself as an option at the right moment. Passing lines, blocking them or opening them up. I am a forward, it is not my job to pick up the ball, like Frenkie does. And we need to have all the parts clicking. From the goalie to Virgil, via Frenkie and other players to me or Cody or whoever is up front. We all play our role. And we have lads on the bench who can make a difference still, with weapons we haven’t used yet. I think of Luuk or Noa or Xavi.”
Do you hear the criticism from Holland?
“Nope, I am not on social media during the World Cup. This all goes beyond me. I do that on purpose, to protect myself. I don’t need that info to perform. It’s all noise. I focus on what makes me better. I will hear from our coaches what I need to hear. All that is said and written by others, I try to ignore. I live in a tunnel at the moment.”
Is that easy to do?
“I had to learn that. When I played in England, for Man United, i heard all those things about me and it didn’t help me. At all. I was checking everything and I realised it is not something that works for me. It’s distracting and most of the stuff you read is not even true! The other day, they read that Noa was sent away from training. He came to me and said “why do they write this?” There was no issue, the physio wanted to see his foot and he had to go inside. Noa needs to close himself off from that, it’s a discipline thing. Once we are done in Qatar, I hope after the finals, I will turn my insta back on.”
How is your fitness?
“Well, there is fit and there is match fit. The muscle injury i had after Poland is gone. That happened two months ago and it’s all good now. But that doesn’t mean I am fit to play 90 minutes. You cannot emulate matches at training. As a sub, you do need to train the next day with the lads that didn’t play and that is pretty tough. I need it all to become fit as soon as possible.”
Did you ever doubt you’d be ready?
“Never. We didn’t need to rush anything in my recovery. There was a slight set back early on, and that has somewhat slowed me down, but not much. It is what it is. I never panicked. We had it all under control.”
There is being fit and being in form?
“Yes, but…what is form? You can have a nice period in your career, a flow, things go by themselves. But i can still be decisive for the team even if I am not in good form. I can decide a game in the 90st minute even if I play bad all match. It’s about moments. And I need to be there when my moment comes. That is tournament football. Is there one team that plays consistently good football? No, there are not that many amazing matches, but there are many amazing moments.”
Louis van Gaal basically said “we don’t have a chance without Memphis”. Does that give you additional pressure?
“No not at all. That pressure, I put on myself. Always. I want to be the key man, I want to be decisive for the team. I created those expectations myself. I have 42 goals for Oranje, well… people can expect something from me. And other players will step up too. When Frenkie and I were not there for the Nations League games, we still beat Belgium, right? We won against Senegal and drew versus Ecuador and Cody does the business for us. We will come far, as long as players remain fit.”
You created that level of expectation and if you’re honest, the whole team has done this, as has Louis van Gaal. Shouldn’t we be playing way better?
“Yes, for sure. I think so too and we are confident. No one will be able to convince us we are not good enough. Yes it was not good enough against Senegal and Ecuador, we know. But we did win the group and we are in the last 16 of the tournament. We will grow into this tournament.”
Even in a bad game, we don’t lose. This Oranje refuses to lose?
“Well yes, that is a quality, but it’s not something we want to lean on. We want to attack and win and we want to play better. The thing is, you also have to deal with the strength of the opponent.”
Did we underestimate Senegal and Ecuador?
“Maybe, these nations play different than we do, or than European nations. I remember we played Ecuador in the run up to the WC2014. We played 1-1, as well. I think the current Ecuador is even better. You never win easily against South American teams. We had a hard time beating Mexico in 2014 remember? We were watching Argentina – Mexico the other day. And we were looking at each other. They were going at it, but the players are all cool with it. It’s there culture. They know they’re going to get kicked, but that is how they play and think: You’ll feel me today!”
is it possible to enjoy a World Cup as a player?
“Oh yes, we watch the games when we can. We follow the big names of course. We love watching Argentina, Brazil, Spain. I could watch football every night, but we also have our meetings and obligations. We have sessions per line, or individual. What is going well, what needs to improve, that sortathing. Discussing it is as vital as practicing it. It takes time but the talks are key. We need them and sometimes we miss a game as a result. A World Cup for us is more than just playing matches.”
In 2014 you were the Xavi Simons. Young, fearless, impatient. Now you are the leader.
“That is the fun thing of a career, all the different stages, the emotion, the pressure, the learning and now the responsibility. I have always wanted the responsibility. And it makes it extra tough when you can’t play due to injury.”
Do you find opponents play differently when you play or don’t play?
“When Frenkie and I are in sync, there is definitely more fear in the opponent and we can tell by how they talk and coach each other on the pitch. But, I don’t see myself as a real striker. I am more a creator and not a finisher. Like Lewandowski is a really killer. That is not me. By the way, super for him to score his WC goal. He is always leading his country and cool for him to go through.”
Do you learn from other strikers?
“For sure. I am not really a killer but I do watch him and learn from his movement and his positioning. The way he takes a ball first time, yes of course.”
For someone who is not a striker, you are close to being Oranje’s all time top scorer, with 42 goals you’re close to Robin van Persie
“That would be history wouldn’t it, a record like that. I have that ambition yes. And I missed the Euro 2016 and the WC in 2018, imagine that. I started to score a lot of goals under Koeman, before that I didn’t even score that much. Records are there to be broken, but let me stop talking and let me reach that number first. It’s not about me, at the end of the day. We want to achieve something special here and for me, it’s just a matter of doing my bit.”