In an Interview for MUTV, Park Ji-Sung has compared United’s new signing Memphis Depay to Cristiano Ronaldo. After signing for United in 2005, Park witnessed first-hand the transformation of Ronaldo from a young teenager with raw talent to the archetypal footballer he is today.
“Some people say he (Depay) is like Cristiano Ronaldo and I can imagine that – he really has the desire to be the best player and United can help him achieve that.”
After departing Queens Park Rangers in 2013, Park returned to PSV for the 2013-14 season; the club who sold the South Korean to United in 2005. During his second spell with the club, he was lucky enough to play alongside Depay, and so is as good an authority as any to make the comparison.
“He’s still a young player – only 21 years old – but I played with him and he has so much potential: he has strength, passing ability and skill.”
Depay will need those attributes in abundance if he is to emulate Ronaldo’s achievements at Manchester United. The Portuguese star scored an impressive 118 goals in 291 appearances for the club and won the Ballon D’or in 2008. Ronaldo’s inevitable move to Real Madrid in 2009 secured a world record fee of £80 million (only surpassed by Gareth Bale in the summer of 2013).
The impact Ronaldo made at Manchester United can still be felt today. Chants of ‘Viva Ronaldo’ frequently rain down from the Old Trafford terraces, and many fans still long for his return.
The Premier League also recognised the winger’s achievements and the standards have arguably suffered since his departure, particularly at United. With his blistering pace, quick feet, deadly finishing and a free-kick technique unlike any other, Ronaldo lit up the English League, and was the catalyst for United’s dominance of the title over three consecutive seasons between 2007 and 2009.
Depay, therefore, has a lot to live up to. It is unfair to burden the ‘next Ronaldo’ tag on such young shoulders, but whenever a talented young winger comes to Manchester United, it is inevitably what people will say.
Depay does share many of Ronaldo’s attributes. They are both predominantly left wingers but can shift to centre-forward. Depay has pace and skill in abundance. He shares Ronaldo’s tendency to cut in from the left and unleash lethal strikes on goal. Furthermore, the Dutch winger is also deadly from set pieces; he has amassed seven goals from free-kicks this year – two more than Bayer Leverkusen’s Hakan Calhanoglu, who is second in the Dutch set piece chart with five (Daily mail).
Although Ronaldo has scored numerous free kicks, all spectacular in nature, his accuracy is questionable and has only managed one this season which came in Madrid’s 7-3 victory against Getafe on Saturday.
Depay also possesses Ronaldo’s ability to score goals. The 21-year-old finished the season with 22 in the Eredivise, a lager tally than any other player. At the same age Ronaldo compiled 17, albeit in the Premier League.
Some have rightly pointed out that although Depay has enjoyed an incredible season at PSV, the Premier League poses a much greater challenge than the Eredivise. With its high tempo and physicality, many young foreigners have tried and failed to succeed in England (Depay need only ask Angel Di Maria how tough the Premier League can be!). However, Depay has shown that he can produce at the highest level by also performing well on the international stage. He scored two goals at the World Cup in Brazil and produced a dazzling display in Holland’s 2-0 victory over Spain back in March. Jose Callejon will still be having nightmares after Depay destroyed the Real Madrid left-back with his tremendous skill and electrifying pace.
In terms of footballing talent, the signs are there that Depay can indeed succeed at Manchester United in the way Ronaldo did. However, the transition to the Premier League will not challenge his footballing talent, but his mental strength. This is what makes Ronaldo unique and the reason why he has been able to go toe to toe with the world’s greatest ever footballer, Lionel Messi.
No doubt, Depay will face challenges in the early part of his career at United; when Ronaldo arrived as a skinny teenager prone to throwing himself to the ground, he was vehemently criticised as a cheat and labelled as nothing more than a one-trick pony. But it was Ronaldo’s drive and desire to be the best which got him through those early years and where he is today.
Ji Sung Park professes that Depay’s desire to be the best is what reminds him of Ronaldo. Determination – this is far more important than being fast, skilful or an accomplished finisher. Determination is the trait that will empower Memphis Depay to be recognised as a true United legend and emulate the enigma that is Cristiano Ronaldo.
This article was researched and written by Beau Gatward. You can follow him on Twitter.