Perhaps he had no choice but to ‘fess up, perhaps it was a clever PR move or maybe it showed impressive maturity to admits his flaws. Whatever the reason, Wednesday brought some frank words from Memphis Depay on his form since arriving in England. Thursday brought a superlative performance. Depay was presumably permitted to wear whichever hat he fancied on his way home.
“No. Not yet. I know that,” said Depay when asked if he was happy with his displays for Manchester United. “I will continue to fight for it.
“I have a lot of expectations on myself. That’s important. The club is busy and I am busy to improve it. I don’t want to put a date on it or say when I will meet expectations, but it will come. Confidence will help and experience. You learn from your mistakes.” The winger is also reportedly taking advice from Ryan Giggs. He would be deeply foolish not to.
Depay hardly had much defence. WhoScored.com picked the Dutchman in the worst Premier League XI of the season according to their ratings, and it’s easy to see how he merited inclusion. Three goals and no assists in 26 Premier League and Champions League games combined is an appalling return, as is a record of once chance created for every 115.9 minutes played in the league. Not exactly what you’d expect from a £25million signing.
Yet there are far more reasons to keep the faith in Depay than to write him off as a failure. He is 22, more than a year younger than Jesse Lingard. He has also been playing in a team low on confidence and attacking verve, struggling to move the ball into the final third at pace. For every criticism of the individual, there is at least one more of the environment in which he is trying to excel.
Of course it was only FC Midtjylland, just as it was only Club Brugge in the Champions League qualifier in August, when Depay scored twice in a 5-1 home victory. The Danish champions were desperately poor, with right-back Andre Romer the worst of the bunch. On the evidence of Thursday at Old Trafford, it’s hard to fathom how United managed to lose the first leg.
Yet Depay was full of so much vim and vigour that it was impossible not to be heartened by his performance. Taking four shots on target, assisting the own-goal equaliser, winning the penalty that sealed the game and scoring the final goal. It was a sensational display, threatening to outshine even Marcus Rashford’s debut goals.
This is the winger we were told to expect. This is the winger who dominated the Eredivisie. It’s worth remembering that Depay didn’t win the lottery to join United; he earned his big-money move.
Given the weak standard of the opposition, most important of all was Depay’s last five minutes of the match, full of flicks and one-touch passes. The crowd applauded every one and cheered the Dutchman off the pitch, an indication that few at Old Trafford have given up on Depay’s potential success. The winger’s form is so obviously aligned to his confidence; we finally saw it back after an absence of several months.
As with Manchester United themselves, the proof of Depay’s improvement will only come against Arsenal on Sunday. As with debutant Marcus Rashford, the only upside of injury perma-crisis is the opportunity it affords to those on the fringes. Depay showed enough against Midtjylland to earn a chance back on centre stage.
Depay’s early months at Old Trafford have been littered with pitfalls, but he has at least shown intent and determination to improve. More importantly, we can see the evidence of that. Louis van Gaal may not be around next season to feel the benefit, but he must beware walking on Memphis before he can run.