FourFourTwo's Jonathan Fadugba profiles Memphis Depay, the Dutch wing sensation who'll be plying his trade at Old Trafford next season...
The 60-second story
- Date of birth: 13th February, 1994
- Place of birth: Moordrecht, Netherlands
- Position: Winger
- Height: 5ft 9in
- Clubs: PSV Eindhoven (122 appearances, 49 goals)
- International: Netherlands (15 caps, 2 goals)
He calls himself the dream chaser. He straddles the line between confident and cocky. He has a single-minded, burning ambition to make it to the top. And, with two goals and an assist that swung two games around in his country’s favour at last summer's World Cup – his first – he emerged as one of world football's most exciting youngsters. Memphis Depay grew into a significant weapon in Louis van Gaal’s fresh Oranje, an impact substitute whose pace, energy and trickery has won him growing acclaim. His goal against Australia in a 3-2 win made Depay the youngest-ever Dutch goalscorer in the history of the World Cup, surpassing the previous record set by Boudewijn Zenden at France 1998. The then-20-year-old followed that up with another strike in a 2-0 win against Chile, his second international goal in a career that’s only just getting started. As such, Depay looks like he has the ability to become a mainstay of this Dutch side for years to come. Inevitably, big clubs soon paid PSV’s wing sensation attention. And though he stayed for a season post-tournament, guiding them to their first league title for seven years and hitting 20+ goals in the process, a move to join Van Gaal at Manchester United has now been announced.
Why you need to know him
Depay’s story is interesting, if not uncommon – that of the troubled child blessed with extraordinary talent. He had a testing childhood, as the son of a Ghanaian father and Dutch mother who separated when he was four years old. Any child who has lived through a parental break-up will know only too well the deep emotional pain it can cause; any study will speak of the damaging psychological consequences it can have. Depay is one of many who experienced this, and the effects clearly had an impact on his development that endures to this day: in 2012 he dropped Depay from the back of his shirt, reasoning that Depay is his father’s name and that he has no contact with him. Memphis is the name he would wear.
Depay was born in the southern Dutch town of Moordrecht, “a small village where there’s not much to do,” according to one of his closest childhood friends Gigi. But emptiness ends when there's a football at your feet, and Depay and his friends spent almost all their time playing. He joined the local team and his desire to succeed as a professional saw him leave his hometown to join PSV Eindhoven when he was 12.
Though a naturally gifted footballer, he had problems adhering to the way of life at PSV and struggled with authority, leading to the perception this was a moody, complicated kid. PSV gave him a life coach, who described him as “very angry” at their first meeting.
This wasn’t helped when, the day after Depay’s 15th birthday, his grandfather died. Hugely influenced by him, Depay has words dedicated to his grandfather tattooed down the left arm of his heavily-inked 5ft 9in frame. “That man gave me a lot of strength and took great care of me,” said Depay. “At that moment I thought to myself: 'I’ve got to go for it. I know where I want to go, and that is the top.'”
Using pain as motivation, Depay focused on his football. At 16 he was called up to represent his country at under-17 level, and was part of Holland’s 2011 European U17 Championship-winning squad, scoring in the final as Holland beat Germany 5-2. He scored within 20 minutes of his PSV debut in 2011, the opening goal of an 8-0 destruction of VVSB Noordwijkerhout in the Dutch Cup, which PSV would go on to win that year. Then he scored again, two goals in his first taste of professional football, still only 17.
His Eredivisie debut came at 18 in the last minute of a 3-2 win against Feyenoord in 2012. PSV boss Phillip Cocu then gave him slightly more time, 11 minutes of a 5-1 win over Heerenveen. Depay scored within six minutes of coming on.
A pacy, skilful and direct winger, Depay had scored 22 goals in 84 appearances at PSV before the start of this season, before stepping up to a whole new level in 2014/15 by banging in 27 in 38 appearances. He also has two goals in 15 appearances for Holland. Much like the colour of the shirt he wears, the future looks bright.
Depay is a fearsome striker of the ball with a powerful right foot. If you give him space to turn and shoot from distance he’s likely to punish you, as exceptional hits against Zulte-Waregem and Chernomorets Odessa in European action for PSV will tell you.
An able runner with the ball – only Twente's Jesus Manuel Corona has completed more successful dribbles in the Eredivise this season – the 21-year-old can play on either wing but is usually used as an inverted left winger cutting onto his right foot. His skill set could perhaps lead to a future as an attacking midfielder.
Depay’s physical power, speed, skill and direct running will have undoutedly proved to Van Gaal that he has what it takes to be a fearsome weapon in the Premier League. It was perhaps first demonstrated in a pre-World Cup friendly against France, when Depay came off the bench and was electric, embarrassing Mathieu Debuchy down the left-hand channel with his silky skill and speed.
He registered 12 goals and seven assists in the Eredivisie in 2013/14, his maiden campaign as a first-team player, before boosting his productivity to 21 goals and four assists in 28 Eredivisie games in 2014/15, becoming the top scorer in the league.
Mentally, Depay also appears very strong, committed young man driven to reach the top. “I want to win every time,” he says. “If I lose, my day is ruined.”
At 20 there were inevitable flaws in his game. Decision-making – knowing when to shoot, when to take a man on and when to pass – were all areas Depay needed to improve upon, and his shooting was wayward at times. Improved consistency and efficiency this season, however, has seen him become one of the top young players in Europe and one of, if not the, most exciting player in Dutch football.
"Memphis is one of the greatest talents of the Netherlands, a very passionate and ambitious guy too. If he continues his development in this way, the club is going to have a lot of fun with him around,” said PSV technical manager Marcel Brands in 2012.
“He’s doing everything to reach the top,” PSV team-mate Stijn Schaars told Helden Online. “He has a body of a true athlete, power and flair. I’m not afraid of him losing his head. His drive is huge. I like him a lot.”
Did you know
Depay has the words ‘dream chaser’ tattooed on his chest, an outlook that’s become like a personal mantra. “When I look in the mirror I get motivated because I know I’m not yet where I want to be.”
- Shooting 8
- Heading 5
- Passing 6
- Tackling 5
- Pace 8
- Dribbling 8
- Creativity 6
- Work-rate 8
What happens next?
Last summer PSV supporters were so keen for the 20-year-old to remain in Eindhoven that a banner was erected at the training ground ahead of Holland’s second round match against Mexico with the words “Memphis not for sale”.
“Memphis should just concentrate on the World Cup and go there to show what progress he has made,” Depay’s agent Kees Ploegsma Jr commented before the tournament. “Then we’ll see.” Depay did just that, proving himself as an extremely focused worker intent on making it to the top.
Providing the deal to Manchester United goes through without a hitch, Depay can now look forward to the challenge of proving himself at one of the world's biggest clubs.