21 Midfielder Manchester United Netherlands
In 2014 Memphis Depay was one of the most exciting players on this list. He’d scored in a World Cup for the Netherlands, wowed fans and pundits alike practically all year and was well on the way to guiding PSV to the Eredivisie title and into the Champions League, where they were eventually drawn in the group stage against Manchester United.
Depay was a raw talent honed through pure determination. Question marks over his teenage temperament, discipline and attitude were being brushed aside as a player of genuine quality emerged in Eindhoven. The chip was still on his shoulder but the world was now at his feet as well, and in 2015 he took his biggest step yet into the spotlight.
2015 has been…
Transitional, we hope. Depay flew through the second half of 2014/15 with PSV. Having said in December that he wouldn’t leave PSV for a team not in the Champions League, he shrugged off reported interest from United, PSG and Tottenham Hotspur in January, describing becoming a Dutch champion as “a must” in his career plan.
PSV later revealed a bid from Spurs but Depay continued to be instrumental in their title triumph. He scored 22 league goals, seven of them free kicks, and ended the season as the Eredivisie’s top goalscorer; it was a target he set for himself, typical of a young man who genuinely believes he can reach the absolute pinnacle of the game.
He won the Johan Cruyff Prijs in May for good measure and played out the season with his team against the wishes of United, who signed him to end speculation that pre-dated Louis van Gaal’s appointment but understandably ramped up after it and never really went away, despite reports of interest from the aforementioned suitors as well as Manchester City, Liverpool and FC Bayern.
That’s quite a list and it reflects the potential of a very special prospect. Depay in full flight is electric. He scores brilliant goals of all kinds and was especially devastating for PSV, where he played his best football as an advanced left winger, linking well with Jetro Willems and using his pace and extraordinary skill to provide a constant threat as he roamed inside from his flank.
And yet his start to life at Old Trafford has been a slow one that’s seen Depay in various positions in the United attack. Despite a big impact in the Champions League playoffs (two wonderful and crucial goals that shouldn’t be overlooked), it’s been a rocky second half of the year for the Moordrecht-born youngster. Against Aston Villa in August he was totally ineffective and after his home debut Van Gaal requested that he calm down and work on his tactical discipline.
In September he was substituted at half time against Liverpool having given the ball away more than any other player and that wastefulness has been a feature of the early knockings of his English career. Danny Blind, the Netherlands national team coach, was vocal in his criticisms as Depay’s stock dropped in the autumn.
A poor start in England, coupled with an alleged bust-up with Robin van Persie on international duty, led to the unfortunate revival of the old questions about Depay’s lifestyle and discipline. In November the gutter transfer press reported the possibility of a surprise departure in January. Given United’s obvious preference to turn a profit, and the player’s history with his coach, that’s not likely. But it’s not impossible, and Depay has plenty left to prove.
Fortunately the ability is there for him to tap. With some focus, dedication, experience and adaptation there’s no doubt Depay has the quality to find a more established place in the United team and the Netherlands team. But that’s up to him to demonstrate, and one thing he’s yet to rebut fully is doubt over his application.
There are signs that Depay is beginning to settle into his groove in the Premier League. He needs to grab onto that momentum with both hands and display the kind of determination and attitude to self-improvement that got him there in the first place.
C+ Must find his feet fast
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