Can Memphis Depay still become 'best in the world'?

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The 24-year-old is confident he can reach the pinnacle of European football despite his inconsistency but he has a lot to do to prove himself

So much has changed for Memphis Depay in the near three years that have followed his €27.5 million move to Manchester United from PSV, yet much remains the same.

The Dutch winger left Eindhoven in the summer of 2015 an Eredivisie champion and top scorer, a World Cup semi-finalist and one of the highest-rated young players in European football.

The self-titled Dreamchaser seemed to be racing up to his lifelong ambition of becoming one of the world’s best players when he teamed up with his former Netherlands boss Louis van Gaal at Old Trafford at the age of 21, snubbing interest from Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain in the process.

Now 24, his situation and prospects appear less glamorous than before and many of Memphis’ early backers have backed off completely as they watch a clearly talented player stumble over the hurdles of professional football.

Life in Manchester did not work out as planned as neither Van Gaal nor Jose Mourinho could justify making him a regular feature in the side and an 18-month spell ended in disappointment in January 2017.

A four-and-a-half-year contract with Lyon was an ideal safety net for Depay, but no one could argue he has seized the opportunity as firmly and graciously as hoped.

He is Lyon’s third most productive player in Ligue 1 this season with 10 goals and six assists, but he has been dropped from the first-team several times, has been reproached by coach Bruno Genesio for his attitude and even the club’s president admitted he is “sometimes frustrating”.

But, while the optimism that surrounds Depay from outside has dropped a great deal, his ambition, belief and - he insists - prospects are as grand as they were when he was firing PSV to a league title and attracting interest from Man Utd, Bayern and PSG.

“Of course, I want to be the best in the world, I want to play against big teams and against big stars," he told the Canal+ Football Club show last week. “So the idea is to find a way to be the best.”

When asked what his game is missing that he needs to acquire to reach that goal, he replied: “Honestly, nothing in terms of quality, maybe just consistency. I’m not being arrogant.”

GFX Info Memphis Depay Lyon

Can he make his dream come true at Lyon? “No, that’s clear. Alexandre Lacazette was the best in Lyon, but he had to go to Arsenal to become even better.”

The difference is that Memphis has not proved himself worthy of making that move, only given glimpses of it. He has been responsible for many golden moments at Lyon, including an incredible goal from the halfway line against Toulouse, a hat-trick against Troyes, a stunning injury-time winner against PSG and, most recently, a decisive header in Sunday’s win at Marseille. But there are many moments of complete silence from him, stretches of games with minimal influence and much frustration.

Consistency is not solely a game-to-game issue, either. His wild and tricky style, and enthusiasm for showmanship, makes for erratic performances that often see him flip between dumbfounding spectators and leaving them in dismay in quick succession.

He showed those two sides of his game against Villarreal in this season’s Europa League. After impressively controlling a pass with his heel and turning his marker, he took it a step too far and ended up scuffing the final ball with a tame rabona. A few minutes later, he ran on to a loose ball and sent it sailing into the net from distance with a wonderful strike.

Memphis has a taste for the extravagant, whether it’s on the field or on his Instagram page, but he acknowledges that he has flaws in his game and needs to improve.

“Sometimes I play as simply as possible, in one or two touches,” he told Lyon’s website in January. “But I also make bad decisions, I make mistakes and I try too complicated things. I learn from my failures, but I will always try technical things, I will always try to take pleasure and do great things.

“I took a risk against Toulouse last year and scored an incredible goal. If I had missed it, everyone would have said ‘play simpler!’ Sometimes I try things. People should just enjoy the player that the club bought. I came to Lyon with the same vision of things as before.”

Memphis Depay Lyon

At Lyon he needs to learn how to balance the simple and the stunning to achieve that consistency, and he has plenty of time to do that - the only question is whether he is serious and focused enough to do it. His dabbling in music by making a rap video with Quincy Promes in Los Angeles and his passion for fashion and flamboyant style have made it easy to call his attitude into question throughout his career, but he has persuaded enough important people that he is a devoted professional when it comes to football.

Van Gaal was a noted fan and Mourinho spoke highly of him in the early days of his time at United, continuing to praise his attitude after he left and putting his struggles down to the club having too many options in his position. Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas sees his quality, too, and knows that the attacker can be “amazing” but “needs love”, while Ronald Koeman is looking forward to working with him at the national team after failing to bring him to Everton.

“My impression of him after the interview was better than before,” he said. “I find it interesting to work with him. Two men are needed to do that, though. There is me, but he must be there himself as well."

Even in his personal life, he has had to put in time to win over some sceptical of him. It took a year of pursuing Lori Harvey since he first saw her on a beach before he finally got the chance to start a relationship, only after her famous comedian father, Steve Harvey, had Memphis checked out.

“I had him followed,” Harvey admitted on his US talkshow. “[Lori] didn’t know. She knows now. But when she found out she was upset.

“’What you trippin’ for? I’m trying to help you. You think he's cute, I don’t. You find him attractive. The boy is just a boy to me'.”

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The American icon was soon convinced that the boy was a “good one”, however, and congratulated Memphis and Lori on their engagement last June.

Unlike the Harvey family, Europe's elite are still wary of accepting Memphis as one of their own because of his unpredictable nature and he must be patient if he is to prove he belongs at the level he says he does. 

Many have written him off already, but the defiant Dutchman is used to pleasantly surprising his doubters. He just might do it again over the next few years.

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