It hurts when I see Sweden advance even further into the World Cup. It hurts bad. With all the “heavy hitters” going home early, imagine what we could have achieved…
And with Messi, CRonaldo, Muller and others leaving the tournament so soon, it does make you wonder: who will be the man of the tournament? Let’s hope it’s not Neymar! And surely, not Kane? He will win the Golden Boot I think, and he’s an amazing striker but don’t we need just a tad more from the “Best Player” of the tournament?
I miss Memphis even more now…
He rewarded himself with a crucial hattrick on the last day of the season in France, for a tremendous season. It seems as if he keeps on going from strength to strength ever since he was given the “free role” at Lyon and in Oranje.
VI Pro visited him in Lyon at the end of the season. Memphis and Bertrand Traore are mulling about in the sun. Their practice session just ended. And the two are now just watching the training of the youth team of Lyon. They’re both football fanatics. And they’re in heaven, as Olympique Lyon has talent coming up the gazoo!
Memphis points to a massive central defender he likes. Traore is giggling like a girl when a certain pass and move session is executing in high speed. Memphis: “Players tend to hang around here, at Lyon. The vibe is good and it smells like football here.”
Memphis likes it like that. Usually, he’s the first to come in for practice. A bit of jest with the door men and then a good solid breakfast before the games begin. And as the French do it: he shakes the hands of everyone at the venue. Every player does, every morning again. Whether it’s another team mate, or the kit man or some visiting reporter from Holland. It sort of resembles the mentality at PSV Eindhoven. Where top sports and casualness meet. And sometimes, that goes well hand in hand.
When Memphis drives out of the complex later that day, the chaos starts. A group of fans wants his autograph, or a picture. He drops his window, signs balls, jerseys and cameras click. And the question is the same: “Memphis, will you stay at Lyon?”. Because 19 goals and 13 assists…it does count. Even C Ronaldo had less involvements (31) than Memphis.
For Memphis, it all starts with peace, quiet and fun. He needs to enjoy the game and life. Two months ago, it all came together. He does have peace of mind ever since the Christian faith became prominent in his life. And freedom he got on the pitch, when Ronald Koeman gave him the free role in a 2 mans forward line (with Ryan Babel). It allowed him to use his specific qualities in optimum form. More than being pushed out to the left. Bruno Genesio, his Lyon coach, happened to be at the match in Geneva and made notes. He saw how Memphis enjoyed himself and scored. Florian Maurice was there as well. He’s Lyon’s head scout. He tells Genesio how he saw this before. Some 8 years ago when Maurice was watching young PSV in Eindhoven. And a 16 year old Memphis Depay played as #10 behind the striker. Memphis: “It’s true, in the junior teams, I used to play as shadow striker and in a free role, I do think I am at my best. And Maurice remembered this.”
This is not unlike Arjen Robben, who played playmaker in youth teams but was banished to the left wing when he made it into FC Groningen’ first team. To protect him from challenges but the youngster ended up playing there for years.
When Memphis returned to Lyon, the Lyon technical staff immediately made the call. Striker Diaz was suspended so coach Genesio had his team practice this new formation. And then it all happened. And not just a bit.
First of all, with a front line of three. With Memphis as central striker. He scored twice vs Toulouse. “That was good, it was fun, but I am not a striker who remains in the spot. I want to be able to roam and move around, find space. That is when my skills are utilised best: my creativity, explosivity and goal scoring.”
After the Toulouse game, Genesio goes for a diamond in midfield and two up top. Against Metz, Memphis had four assists and one goal. A week later, Memphis was the shadow striker and again: one goal and one assist, vs Amiens. When Fekir returned fit, Genesio used Traore and Memphis up front, with Fekir as #10. And Memphis kept on scoring. In April, he was voted Player of the Month. Memphis now: “That month, that is how I want to play always. Every match, I want to be dangerous, threatening and successful, I want the permanent flow.”
And it’s not just the stats that tell the story. It’s visible on his face, in his body language. He seemed liberated, compared to the straightjacket Memphis we saw at Man United. He’s constantly open to receive, he will work and make dummy runs, he can use his special trickery when needed. “When I started here, I was a sort of left midfielder. I had to work the whole flank. When the ball was on the other flank, I had to drop deep, almost like a wing back. My playing field was 70 meters long. And when that happens, you kill a number of my specific qualities. I can’t be explosive over 70 meters. I didn’t get the ball too often, I had to work much more without the ball and that took so much energy that my specific attacking yield was lower than ever. It confined me. And I need to be free to express myself. And yes, I want to work and I want to do my bit, but my team contribution is greatest when I can follow my intuition. Without limitation. Floating, roaming, hunting for space, making my actions and be a threat.”
Even as a left winger, he had his periods this season where he was unstoppable. He scored 7 goals in 7 games in the fall of 2017. With a hattrick vs Troyes. But after that series, he had a dry spell of six games. Until that night vs Paris St Germain. He started on the bench. “I was so pissed off that I didn’t play. I want to play every match but in particular the big ones. But God told me to keep quiet. To go with it. And to be ready. I was convinced something special would happen.”
In the second half, Memphis was needed to come in. Aouar came off, and Memphis started his predatory role. And in injury time, he got what he wanted. Just outside the box, Fekir fed him the ball. Memphis dribbled inside and let fly: a rocket in the top corner. The Groupama Stadium exploded. Memphis: “Obviously, scoring the winner is sensational. Scoring the winner vs PSG even more so. Scoring the winner like this, even more so… But for me, it was super special due to the message I received that morning. My relationship with God pushed me to a higher level. I felt the ultimate gratitude…”
And there were more high points. Memphis mentions two. His goal at home vs Villareal (3-1) in the knock out stage of the Europa League. Another rocket in the corner from 20 meters out. And he also determines the match vs Ol Marseille (2-3). Again as a sub coming on, with a header in the top corner in the final stages of the game. The start of a mighty final sprint, allowing Lyon to win eight games in a row.
But, it did seem the season would end in a little disaster. In the away game vs Strasbourg, a 2-1 lead went up in smoke. And just when Strasbourg scored the winner in the dying minutes, Monaco – Lyon’s rival – scored the winner vs St Etienne.
The unexpected loss in Strasbourg put maximum pressure on the last match of the season. In that match, in Lyon vs Nice, it seemed to go totally wrong. Both Monaco and Olympique Marseille were leading, while Lyon was trailing 0-1 at half time. Qualifications for the Champions League would be out of reach and a financial disaster for Olympique Lyon was looming. And then, Memphis stepped up. With cool hattrick, Depay opened the door for Lyon to the billionaire’s ball. The first was a tap in, assist by Fekir. The second a shrewd free kick, under the wall. And the third a nice little chip. In the last 9 matches, Memphis scored 10 goals and had 7 assists. Depay rescues Lyon, the headlines screamed. The typical Memphis with two fingers in ears was the picture. Depay’s way of saying: I only listen to God!
The times that Memphis could be bothered about what others said about him are now behind him. “I compare it to the food you eat, if you would eat the criticism, the good or the bad, you would never get well. I mean, in good times, I ate sweets and in bad times I ate bitter… In both situations, you get a stomach ache. I don’t read it anymore. Not interested. And man, it gives me peace and quiet. I am now 24 years old, I want to play another 10 year at top level without the baggage of all the crap.”
He continues: “You know, the WC Brazil, people revered me, adored me. Everything was cool and now we missed the WC in Russia and I am crap and can’t play football. As if it was all due to me? And when I wear a hat, I’m criticised, when I drive a Rolls Royce, I’m criticised. I’m the role model of bad performances. I had to learn not to take any of it seriously.”
Memphis is enjoying his time with Oranje now. “The current developments are really positive. There is this feeling that we can actually achieve something. And we need each other, that bond, you notice it. During the matches, but also during the sessions in practice. In Noordwijk, you could all do what you pleased, all by yourself. When we are in Zeist, it’s more a common thing. We seem to spend more time together. We play more games together, it’s more fun.
And Memphis now has a team manager he knows a bit better. Koeman tried to lure Memphis to Everton. But, that’s all in the past now. Depay: “Sure, we had a good talk a year and a half ago, but that doesn’t count. I will need to demonstrate my value day in day out. When Van Gaal signed me for Man United, he told me the same thing. I know you, I worked with you, but you won’t get any privileges. But it helps when there is a click. And I think I have that with Koeman. He is clear in what he wants and he is a real inspiration.”
Oranje played four games under Koeman. “Against England, it wasn’t good enough. We know this. We were a bit too fearful on the ball. We needed to get used to the new system, the new way of working. And England is a top opponent of course. But, we should have done better, all of us. We are still a big football nation, we need to be ballsy and show confidence. We do need to be at every big tournament. Period! We do have enough quality. We now need to finetune this and make sure we utilise the qualities and cover up the weaknesses. Based on a compact defense we can be quite devastating in attack. We have strong defenders, good and quick offensive full backs, we have smart midfielders, all the ingredients to get the results. We did so vs Portugal. And now we need to keep on going.
Memphis still have 3 years on his deal with Lyon. When Lyon Chairman Aulas was interviewed, with Memphis standing next to him, he was asked how much Lyon would ask for him when Madrid came calling for Memphis. Aulas said: “Memphis won’t leave.” And Memphis just stared into the camera….
Both were main characters in another comedy sketch at the end of the season. Chairman Aulas again, this time alone in front of the cameras, saying: “Memphis is exceptional, a player who works hard and wants to do everything his coach asks from him.” At that point, Memphis walked past with the match ball and he placed both his finger Memphis-style in the chairman’s ears.
Memphis: “God will help me climb mountains of which I myself don’t know the height…” And asked about where he is at in his life and career, he said: “I am happy now with who I am. That is all. I am a wild boy with peace in his head. It feels good.”