The relationship between the number seven shirt and Manchester United is the what dreams are made of. It is regarded as one of the most iconic shirts in the history of this game. But it is quite impossible to escape the air of uncertainty that has filled Manchester United over the last three years. It seems that one of the most successful clubs in modern times seems to be heading the proverbial “Liverpool Way”.
The relationship between Memphis Depay and Manchester United is likely to come to an end. The young Dutch winger has been told by Jose Mourinho that he does not form a part of his plans, and if the right price comes around then the former Dutch prodigy is off. Blame it on Louis van Gaal’s urgency to sign him or his attitude and discipline problems, the fact is Memphis Depay could possibly go down as one of the worst players to have worn the prestigious number seven of Manchester United.
Memphis has not earned another chance at United, but neither could he be held solely responsible for this. With talent and time on his side, the club still doesn’t see a need to give him another chance, and that is completely understandable. After all, with a liking for flashy cars and ghetto fashion, an apparently poor attitude, and worse performances, Memphis has done little to justify himself to United’s fan base after last summer’s £25 million transfer from PSV Eindhoven.
To be fair to him, Memphis is more powerful than Adnan Januzaj and Ashley Young, quicker and more penetrative than either of them, worries less than Marouane Fellaini, and has a better right-foot shot than any of the players mentioned above.
The 22-year-old has scored just seven goals this season, while he has just two assists. You might want to give him a bit of leeway by saying that it was his first season in the premier league, but what’s more bothering is the sides against with which he scored goals. His strikes came against Watford and Sunderland in the Premier League, and Club Brugge, Midtjylland and PSV Eindhoven in Europe. The player averages around two shots, half a key pass and 1.5 dribbles per game over the past year.
Manchester United has been a breeding place for wingers and attackers and United acted in urgency to sign this Dutch prodigy, as Louis van Gaal said in an interview to Guardian that
“I was forced to handle it because, otherwise, he was going to PSG, that’s why I had to sign him.”
Many pundits and football analysts once heralded him as; “the most exciting player to come from Holland since Arjen Robben,” and Louis van Gaal shamelessly compared him to Lionel Messi. Once upon a time regarded as one of the most sought after prospects in world football and now not a single top European club want to sign him.
Football’s instant boom and total dud culture mean today’s hero can be tomorrow’s douchebag or often called as a flop. The bright young player that lights up midweek fixture can soon be written off as a show-pony or a one season wonder, lacking the fight and grit for the Premier League’s relentless grind.
Depay wears the United number seven shirt and that in itself is a huge shock to him. The who’s who of football, which includes George Best, Bryan Robson, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo have donned the iconic shirt. Since Cristiano Ronaldo departed in summer 2009 no footballer has continued the tradition or we can safely say, exhibited the arrogance, the flash or in other words, the swagger of that shirt. Two have tried but failed. Antonio Valencia felt the weight of its history when wearing it for a campaign, and promptly shifted back to the number 25. Angel Di Maria took on the challenge when he arrived in a record £59.7 million deal from Real Madrid but found himself wearing the number 11 of Paris Saint-Germain after just one season.
For a long time, it looked as if Depay would never be good enough for the life of a professional footballer. At four his Ghanaian father abandoned his family and his Dutch mother met a new boyfriend who had a bad influence on the young soul. Memphis (the name he prefers on his back to that of the man who abandoned him) grew up as a rebel, worshipping the pseudo ghetto culture in Rotterdam and putting a lot of energy into his rap group, Rotterdam Airlines.
He is an example to young footballers, his life trajectory showing that childhood experiences need not be your identity for the future. Yes, he spends as if there is no tomorrow, parties till wee hours of the morning and on top of it doesn’t have a performance to justify these antics week in and week out.
Recently he went back to Moordrecht (the place where he grew up) and surprised his mother by giving her a brand new Mercedes. The present may have been materialistic but the words defined a lot about a young man’s troubled soul. On Facebook, where he had uploaded a video of that moment, he quoted lyrics from Kanye West’s Hey Mama and added ‘And I love you for that mommy!! I hope I made you proud’.
The Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl once said: “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves”, and this is what Depay has done. Across his chest is a tattoo with the words ‘Dream Chaser’, with two wings, symbolising both the fledgling bird he was and his opportunity to now truly spread his wings and take flight on the international scene. Depay’s story is one of a boy who, despite the odds against him, has achieved what he set out to achieve. He lost a lot in those early years but also found himself and a freedom to express himself
Dutch great Ruud Gullit once accused the youngster of being “a really good footballer, but at the same time, he wants to be a global superstar and a style icon. I think to myself, ‘boy oh boy, do it in the right order. You have to perform, perform and perform again.'”
Ryan Giggs warned the youngster to curb his hipster ways and gave him some good life advice (on being a winger) and the same has been echoed by his former youth team coach at Ajax Co Adriaanse who said;
“If you are a young boy and still have not done anything, do not play dress up as you report to the coach. Ronaldo does that, but at least he is proven.”
Time, though, is on the player’s side – and he is far from the first overseas star to find the Premier League a tough proving ground. Memphis is ‘a very talented player’ but fans ‘can’t underestimate how big a step it is up to the Premier League, and especially to a big club like Manchester United,’ Arjen Robben prophetically warned last summer.
Probably Shakespeare was right when he said; “Men at some time are masters of their fates. The fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”
Written by Prashanth Nair