Ryan Ferguson, a British PSV fan, explores the strengths, weaknesses and overall potential of Memphis Depay, amid interest from Manchester United.

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depay 67Since Louis van Gaal was appointed Manchester United manager in May, nearly every Dutch footballer of renown has been linked with a move to Old Trafford. Accordingly, we’ve witnessed a rise in Eredivisie “experts,” with many people suddenly confessing a deep knowledge of otherwise obscure players like Daley Blind and Bruno Martins Indi. Every day, we’re inundated with “scouting reports” on these players, largely compiled by interested bystanders who’ve spent an afternoon watching YouTube skill videos, browsing Wikipedia biographies, or playing FIFA 14. Such attention is all well-and-good but, for diehard followers of Dutch football, it can leave a bitter taste in the mouth; our opinions lost in a sea of uninformed conjecture.

Thus, I’ve decided to join the parade. As a fully-fledged PSV fan of ten years, I’m tired of reading the same regurgitated cliches regarding Memphis Depay, our talented youngster. Having watched almost every match of his professional career, and witnessed firsthand the progression of fellow PSV alumni such as Arjen Robben and Ibrahim Afellay, I feel well-placed to separate Depay fact from Depay fiction. I want those truly interested in this exciting player to acquire an accurate sense of his strengths, weaknesses, and general career trajectory. I want readers to appreciate where Memphis has come from, where he currently is, and where he can go with the right instruction. I want you to hear the truth, straight from the horse’s mouth.

Depay is a precociously-talented footballer. He blends searing pace with bustling strength, taking a direct, cut-throat approach to glory. The man is danger personified, always capable of altering the pattern of a game by driving with intent, or producing a piece of game-changing brilliance from thin air. On his day, Memphis can be truly unplayable, morphing into an explosive monster who can dribble, shoot, and inspire with more conviction than any Eredivisie player. This season, at the age of 20, he became much more than just the angelic face of a new PSV era; he put the entire club upon his shoulders and carried it to respectability.

Yet the line between genius and enigma is famously thin. Depay can be infuriatingly inconsistent; his visible yearning for instant success and recognition perhaps holding him back from becoming a complete player at this point. The vibrant winger relies almost entirely on pure instinct and, therefore, takes more risks on the field than any player I’ve ever seen. He may beat five men with a flick and shimmy, but he may also play a blind cross-field pass which is easily intercepted by counter-attacking opponents. Once Memphis gets a picture in his mind, he pursues it with reckless abandon, whether this is beneficial to his team or not. Thus, his portfolio is littered with daring dribbles, wonder goals, and head-scratching moments of breathless naivety. Such is the life of talented young sportsmen.

But in order to fully-understand Memphis Depay, it’s important to acknowledge Phillip Cocu’s on-going project at PSV. The Eindhoven club, for so long part of European football’s elite, has experienced something of an identity crisis in recent years following on-field failure precipitated by managerial indecision. As boardroom confusion reigned, PSV slipped from perennial contention in Holland and Europe. Without a national Title or Champions League football since 2008, PSV experienced financial difficulties and where effectively forced to embark in a new direction, replete with strict salary cap and increased focus on the development of top young players. Thus, a cast of veteran stars, including Kevin Strootman, Dries Mertens and Mark van Bommel, was replaced by uber-prospects such as Adam Maher, Zakaria Bakkali and Jurgen Locadia. The clubs’s steadfast belief in youth is yet to yield additional silverware but, slowly and with progressive coaching, these players are improving to become household names.

Memphis Depay is the jewel in the crown. In 2013/14, he grew from late-game, impact substitute to become by far PSV’s most influential player. In all competitions for club and country this season, the left-sided maverick made 42 appearances, scoring 13 goals and finally starting to deliver on his exorbitant potential. PSV decision-makers are thrilled with his continued development; Depay, who joined the club aged 12, standing as tangible evidence that their new approach can work. Further, this inflamed ball of aggression and potential is held aloft as a role model for every player currently enrolled in PSV’s recently-enriched academy. Every executive and coach and fan wants to see De Herdgang transformed into a production line of mini Memphis Depays, and you cannot blame them.

After all, who wouldn’t want a homegrown player who can easily slam home a free-kick from twenty-five yards? Who wouldn’t want their own Netherlands international furnished with fiery competitive instinct and unwavering will to will? Who wouldn’t want Memphis Depay, this raw bundle of energy, desire and skill? Everybody wants him, that’s the point.

PSV, the club currently in possession, must thank their lucky stars that he was so productive this season because, without Depay, a dreary season would’ve been even worse. On several occasions, he illuminated a gloomy campaign, with elegant dribbles and the extraordinary goals which have already become his trademark. Memphis has the ability to score from anywhere on the field; his Ronaldo-esque technique sending shots fizzing and darting and barreling literally anywhere! He’s no stranger to Row Z but, when Depay really connects sweetly, moments of pure joy are authored.

For instance, his crucial goal in a Champions League qualifier against Zulte Waregem was priceless, as was the swerving drive away to NEC Nijmegen. My personal favourite was Memphis’ display of sheer genius against Chornomorets in the Europa League, when a lethal twenty-five yard strike capped arguably the greatest performance of his fledgling career. On that night, he finally let go and unleashed his budding ability. We started to really believe in Memphis Depay as a potential match-winner; a hero; a nonconformist capable of delivering relief at any moment.

We believed in those prospects, but we didn’t so much bank on them.

You see, Memphis is still very early in his development as a starting player. He’s raw, he’s green, he’s unrefined. But, above all else, he’s emotional. Depay, who dealt with parental divorce and the death of his grandfather at a young age, can be immensely tempestuous. Throughout his time at the PSV Academy, he struggled to obey authority figures, with executives worrying that his over-exposure to rap music culture may send him down a path of destruction. Even as a growing professional, the red mist has occasionally descended on Memphis; one particular altercation with Joshua Brenet on the training ground causing concern amongst the PSV cognoscenti. Fortunately, we’ve witnessed real signs of maturity in his behaviour over the past six months, but placing too much stress on this kind of all-or-nothing, heart-on-the-sleeve footballer can be fatal.

Everybody may want Memphis Depay, but can the mega-clubs pursuing his signature afford to remain patient when he tries to do too much? Can Manchester United or Inter Milan provide the detailed, personalised coaching which has seen him thrive at PSV? Will those clubs commit as much effort to further enhancing Depay’s defensive, technical and tactical deficiencies? Is Memphis Depay, the most imposing of athletes, currently a good enough footballer to make such a gargantuan step up? These are all legitimate questions which reflect his mysterious personality.

In my opinion, there are three things currently restricting Memphis Depay from becoming a complete player; three attributes which, if improved with specialist attention and maturity, hold the key to his future; three characteristics which all world class players have but he currently lacks: consistency, responsibility, and all-round football intelligence.

Initially, he must become far more reliable, particularly with regard to shooting. A mere glimpse at Depay’s statistics from 2013/14 reveals an easily-excited, typically-wasteful player; Memphis leading the Eredivisie with 132 shots, yet managing to place just 48% of them on target, and convert a measly 9%. Now, this may be viewed through the prism of harsh, objective data, but the fact remains: Depay shoots too much, and with too little accuracy, to be a persistent threat commensurate to his potential. By shooting with such regularity and such wayward aim, he becomes predictable, and lets opposing defences off-the-hook without having to deal with his full array of skills. Memphis would be eminently more dangerous, and PSV even more successful, if he chose to play more killer passes or incorporate yet more probing dribbles into his act.

This overlaps finely with the second and third attributes which Depay must improve to become a world class talent: responsibility and all-round football intelligence. As mentioned earlier, Memphis is a player of exceptional emotion and instinct. That’s what makes him so forceful, so startling, so thrilling to watch. Think Wayne Rooney in his prime. Yet, as many electrifying phenoms discover, there is much more to top-level football than pure athleticism. Sure, Memphis can help PSV win by destroying full-backs from Nijmegen and Leeuwarden but, when he finally faces Dani Alves, Pablo Zabaleta and the world’s greatest defenders for a huge club, that approach will not work every time. Therefore, he must develop into a thinker, a philosopher, a responsible intellect. Memphis has to know when to pass, when to dribble, when to shoot, and why! He must gain a greater appreciation of tactics, of gameplans, and how he fits into those. He must become sharper of mind, not just of body. He must become conscious.

In this regard, he need look no further than Arjen Robben, a footballing savant of global renown who, not too long ago, was, just like Memphis, a crude PSV winger. With precise coaching, sound directing and an open mind, Robben was transformed from a runner of mazy patterns to a soccer scholar, masterminding Bayern Munich attacks with intelligence and authority. He worked at it. Memphis must do the same.

Ibrahim Afellay is another example. Like Depay, he had tremendous physical attributes. Like Depay, he dreamed of success and glory. Like Depay, he took the Eredivisie by storm. Yet, Afellay was able to make that next step up, to the mighty Barcelona, by controlling his own prodigious talent and further imbuing it with a baseline understanding of football. When and how and where to pass. Why to run or cross or link play. How to win.

There is an argument which says that, under the wing of Professor van Gaal, he would develop these aspects of his game with ease; that, by moving to Manchester United, he would be placed in an environment more conducive to the creation of world class football. But, deep down, I think we all believe Memphis Depay needs at least one more season with PSV. After all, this club has always coached the very best out of him; has coaxed his progress from cantankerous kid to impact first-team superstar with adept sensitivity. Who’s to say that manifold advancement cannot be replicated again, in transforming Depay from first-team superstar to all-round, global football icon?

They did it once with Robben, why not again with Memphis?

One day, this uncommonly-gifted footballer will be as good as we all yearn for him to be. Memphis Depay will be a worldwide superstar. Memphis Depay will play for the biggest clubs on the biggest stages. Memphis Depay will melt your heart. But, right now, he’s just another PSV player with a ridiculously-bright future.

Let him grow. It’ll be worth it in the end.

Ryan Ferguson (23 Posts)