20 Midfielder PSV Eindhoven Netherlands
2014 has been...
Explosive. Memphis Depay is a unique young man. He’s a coiled spring, bursting with passion, focus and drive. Above all for our purposes, he is also an extremely able football player. Once your eyes lock on to him on the pitch it’s impossible to prise them away. Depay is quick. He’s fun. He’s aggressive. He’s a one in a million kid and a one in a million player.
Depay burst onto the international scene in the World Cup in Brazil. Having been part of the Oranje system since playing at Under-15 level and making his senior debut only a year ago, he was named in Louis van Gaal’s 23-man squad for this summer’s tournament and, by the time the Dutch had finished qualifying from their group, he was all anybody wanted to talk about.
He became the youngest Dutch goalscorer in a World Cup when he bagged the winner against Australia, scored again against Chile, and was later named on the three-man shortlist for the Best Young Player award. Paul Pogba of France took the honours but Depay hasn’t looked back since. It’s a single-mindedness that’s entirely in character for a young man who oozes potential and superstar quality.
Depay’s belief in his own ability is incredible and his ability justifies it. He believes, without irony or exaggeration, that he can be the best in the world. He might not be right but he’s definitely not yet wrong. Dick Advocaat said he is obsessed with improving. He wants to be better than anyone else in the greatest sport on the planet. It’s a huge and daunting ambition; Depay laughs right in its stupid face.
Depay was brought up in Moordrecht by his mother, Cora, after she and Memphis’ father separated when he was a young child. He looked up to his grandfather, who passed away when Depay was 15 years old and to whom one of his many tattoos is dedicated. It’s a subject he finds difficult. He’s an emotional man who lives with his heart on his sleeve just as he plays his football.
He headed for Rotterdam barely into double figures to play youth football for Sparta, leaving behind a spell with VV Moordrecht. It was a difficult transition for a troubled and sometimes troublesome boy. Over the years he’s welcomed into his inner circle a mentor-cum-coach outside of football who helps him keep his focus. Depay now credits that process and the presence of his friends, said mentor now counting in that regard, for improving his outlook.
Depay moved to PSV in 2006, representing the academy and Jong PSV, and played his first senior game in Eindhoven under interim coach Phillip Cocu in 2012. He’s won admiration and adoration from supporters all over the world in the short time since then but there’s more to Memphis Depay than a mere footballer.
Though he is a singularly driven player, he is an intensely complicated character. But he’s also a 20-year-old with other interests. He has a favourite clothing store and values fashion and style highly. He loves tattoos and works closely with the artist responsible for his ink. He’s heavily into music and used to take time to rap in a studio before deciding it might detract from Memphis the footballer as well as Memphis the football persona, answerable to PSV’s supporters.
He persevered until his inevitable introduction into the PSV team on a more regular basis and in 2013/14 he became a key part of the incredibly young side that began the Eredivisie campaign and was later bolstered by Bryan Ruiz who joined Park Ji-Sung as a senior loanee. Under Cocu as PSV’s permanent coach Depay was a rough diamond last season, clearly blessed with enormous potential but prone to the occasional quiet game.
When he does grab a game by the scruff of the neck he’s an utter, unmitigated pleasure to watch. He can play on either the left or right of a front three and has a lethal right foot, which he’ll deploy from distance given half a chance. He’s lightning fast and has fabulous awareness, allowing him to be alive to unexpected opportunities to score or to create, contributions he welcomes with equal relish.
Depay’s footwork is glorious and he has a trick or two in his locker, but he also holds the ball up surprisingly well and with good upper body strength. He has great vision and passes the ball well. At his essence he is a player who is intuitively creative. He just can’t help it.
He is PSV’s go-to guy in dead ball situations and takes a mean free kick, either struck on goal or delivered into the box, though there are still some set pieces that go awry at his feet.
The young Dutchman is fantastically skilful but there’s no messing about. He applies his talents appropriately to the team’s requirements (the odd rabona cross notwithstanding) and it enables him to create more chances per 90 minutes than almost any other player in Europe, and that’s a statistic you can take to the bank as well as being a mark of the determination and stamina that give Depay his edge.
But this isn’t a mere profile. It’s a love letter to an icon in the making. Depay is more than just a good player. He’s electrifying, a scintillating example of the generation that must inherit the expectations of Europe’s 2010s record-breakers. He’s outrageously confident, ballsy to a fault and entirely unfazed by on-field pressure. It comes down to focus combined with determination and innate ability, and Depay’s got the lot.
He also has some weaknesses, of course. He can be a little wasteful in front of goal, sometimes shooting when he shouldn’t really be shooting at all. There are matches in which he’s not as effective as he should be, or rather there were, and his short passing game can be somewhat off-kilter at times. There was also the small matter of a minor training ground bust-up with team-mate Joshua Brenet, perhaps a hint that Depay’s self-improvement work continues.
In Depay’s case, more so than most, to list weaknesses is to split hairs. He’s a marvel and he’s going to be massive.
2014/15 so far goes some way towards proving that. He returned to PSV from the World Cup in remarkable form. He scored nine goals in his first nine appearances of the campaign. That became ten in ten and it just keeps going. Either side of a fairly lengthy absence with a groin injury he kept himself near the top of the goalscoring charts without missing a beat.
With that in mind, the question isn’t whether Depay will leave PSV, but when. In the past twelve months he’s been endlessly linked with every big team going and a few of the Premier League’s lesser lights, as is the mainstream British media’s wonky wont. However, Manchester United’s reported interest intensified after Van Gaal took over from David Moyes at Old Trafford and it’s only a recent burst of publicity that’s given the impression he might yet be tempted to Spain.
Cocu, for his part, remains philosophical about losing his baby-faced talisman. Depay’s contract now runs until 2018 and PSV should therefore make an absolute mint off him. Cocu indicated in July that he thought the youngster should stay in Eindhoven for another year. Now, after Depay’s freakish start to 2014/15, he expects him to leave. “It’s just beautiful to train such a player,” he said.
If United are keen, it seems that Real Madrid are drooling over the 20-year-old. Their affection is apparently reciprocated and, at the Bernabeu, Depay would be playing with a world-beater to whom some observers are already comparing him. He’s not nearly at Cristiano Ronaldo’s level yet, but the comparison is stylistically not far wide of the mark. It’s clear that there’s a line of influence there, right down to some of Depay’s attempted free kicks.
Depay’s future should be fantastic. He’s maturing by the game and he’s got more magic in his shoes than Dorothy Gale. At both club and international level Memphis Depay is going to be a household name, a folk hero for the football community. The key is to keep his feet on the ground and to maintain his mental focus. In that regard, and seemingly all others, Depay is progressing very well indeed.
"From frustrating to formidable in a matter of months. It was always clear that Memphis had all ability in the world, in 2014 he is turning that into something substantial. The best player in the league, destined to go to the absolute top of football." - Michiel Jongsma
"Memphis Depay became the first Dutch player in World Cup history to come on as a substitute and both score and give an assist (v Australia)." - OptaJoe
A Be still, our beating hearts.
The latest Dutch Football Kit is at JD