There has been plenty of discussion over the current crop at Manchester United, debating whether they are good enough to win titles, trophies and truly compete at the top end of European football. Since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson there have been some talented individuals who have come and gone in quick succession, but should Manchester United have had more faith in those rising up?
One player that immediately springs to mind is Memphis Depay, now of Olympique Lyonnais.
When Memphis first came to Old Trafford from PSV Eindhoven, there was a sense of unpredictability over who he was and what he could bring. The manager who had signed him for £30 million, Louis van Gaal, had known the wide attacker for a number of years given his involvement in the Dutch national team as well as being well-connected in his native country. Memphis’ rise in Holland was meteoric, having scored 28 goals from the left wing in his final season with PSV before joining the Red Devils.
After the departures of Ángel di María and Luis Nani, Man United were in desperate need of wingers and wide, creative players, so decided to pursue two relatively inexperienced starlets in Memphis and Anthony Martial, formerly of AS Monaco. There was always going to be an adjusting period due to the differences in style between the Eredivisie and the Premier League, but no one perhaps foresaw the complications with the scale of the move. Coming from humble beginnings and rising through the Netherlands at one of the country’s biggest clubs was no comparison to then joining the global powerhouse Manchester United and having the expectation placed upon his shoulders.
While Memphis was, in the latter years, the main man of the PSV team and had that responsibility to consistently perform, it was a completely different kettle of fish when coming to Old Trafford and playing in front of 80,000 spectators week in, week out, expected to drive a stagnant van Gaal team forward.
In the end, the Dutch international lasted only one season under van Gaal and half a season under José Mourinho, accumulating seven goals and nine assists in his first 46 appearances.
Comparing that to Marcus Rashford’s tally of last season, Memphis had only scored six goals less than the Englishman, which is interesting given it was in six fewer appearances. This was also during Memphis’ first season in Manchester, playing under a new manager, with a new brand of football, and in domestic competitions that he needed to adapt to.
After being sold to Lyon in January 2017 for half the price Manchester United initially bought him for, he was allowed to develop into the player the Red Devils once saw of him. He found his shooting boots once more and in his first full season in France, Memphis found the back of the net on 22 occasions and assisted his teammates 17 times – hugely impressive numbers.
While some might claim that Ligue 1 is not as strong as the Premier League (although English clubs love raiding the French league for players each summer), no one can deny Memphis of his development so far with Lyon. Bruno Génésio, his manager, has deployed Memphis both on the left and through the middle, alternating between a more direct approach and one where he has the ability to take on his man in the outside channels. In his four games last season playing as a striker, Memphis scored six times, coming towards to end of the campaign which justified Génésio’s selection of putting the Dutchman through the middle so far this year.
Memphis helped record Lyon a famous victory in Manchester this season over United’s across-town rivals. While he did not score, he did assist Nabil Fekir’s goal just before half time and continued to be a presence on the break for City’s defenders to worry about. No matter his form, Memphis will always pose a problem for defenders due to his rapid turn of speed and nimble feet.
It has been obvious that Manchester United have so far struggled this season for creative ingenuity, partly down to the manager’s philosophy, but also due to a lack of confidence in the team’s attacking ranks. Alexis Sánchez, brought in last January, scored his first goal since April just before the international break, ending a barren run of games that appeared to be weighing him down. The Chilean has failed to be an added spark in attack that can get in amongst the goals as he did with Arsenal.
And so it begs the question as to whether the Red Devils should re-sign Memphis. There are reports to suggest United will have a first refusal option on any sale; so should Lyon accept an offer from another club, Man United will have the chance to match it and hijack the deal.
Given his talents and clear progression on the pitch – as well as maturing as a human being which was said to be a major problem when first arriving in Manchester – it can be argued that a return to Old Trafford would certainly be an option worth considering. The move to England came too early in his career, along with the untold riches, but with his move to France, Memphis has now developed into a player that can consistently perform to a high level.
If Manchester United were to take Memphis back, which should be met with applause from United’s fans, then he needs to be played as an understudy and rotation player with Romelu Lukaku. While he can fill in on the left wing if needs be, Memphis can show his true qualities through the middle and also provide the necessary competition for Lukaku. Just as he is now, when the Belgian goes through a dry patch, there should be no harm of bringing in Memphis who can pose a threat at any time.
When United are struggling for ideas, as they have done this season, Memphis can provide a link over the top with his blistering speed and awareness of playing on the last man. While Lukaku is a striker who can hold up play with his back to goal, the Dutch international can offer a different dimension with a quicker way to get to the opposition’s goal. Linking up with Pogba’s spectacular array of passing, it could be a match made in heaven.
While this might not come to fruition, Manchester United should certainly consider the many upsides of re-signing Memphis and bringing him back to Old Trafford. There is a player full of quality there who would relish at the chance to correct his wrongs first time out.
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