Memphis Depay’s goals against Turkey took his tally to 12 goals for The Netherlands in 2021. 21 years after Patrick Kluivert set the record for most goals in a calendar year for the Dutch national team, Memphis Depay has equalled it.
For folks and fans familiar with the Dutch man, this feat seemed unimaginable when he left Manchester United in 2017. A promising youngster for PSV, his 4 seasons with the Dutch giants saw him score 39 Eredivisie goals, and that drew the attention of Europe’s elite. When he moved to Manchester United, he was lucky and unlucky to bear the weight of the long sought-after Cristiano Ronaldo replacement (P.S Cristiano finally replaced himself after 12 years).
For a 20-year old winger, moving to England’s biggest club, laden with so many expectations, was almost always never going to work out, no thanks to the several factors involved.
Memphis told Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, “There are a lot of games in Manchester. There are very few rest days and on training days you are mainly concerned with recovering. It’s heavy, two games a week, always at a high level, and my body has to get used to that”. Ryan Giggs, United’s assistant at that time, however, dismissed these claims and blamed Memphis’ flashy lifestyle for his poor form. He went on to score 7 times in 45 appearances before Louis Van Gaal got the sack and was deemed surplus to requirement just six months into Jose Mourinho’s reign as United manager.
Reflecting on his time at United, Depay said: “I lost a bit of confidence and I lost the confidence of [Louis] Van Gaal and his staff. It was hard for me. The following season I felt like I had more experience, but they changed the coach.
“Jose Mourinho came and I fought to get into the team but I think the idea of giving me a chance was never in his head. He never gave me an opportunity. Never.”
In January 2017, Depay began the road to redemption as he moved to join French club Lyon. In the eyes of many, the move signified the end of a once hot prospect and a hot talent quenched by the water of hype. However, the Dutch man never listened to the noise, he focused on his craft and morphed into the player he was meant to be. With every season, he grew in confidence and took on more responsibilities that he discharged excellently. For the first time since leaving the Eredivisie, Depay hit and surpassed the 20 goal mark, and he did it more than once.
Fast forward to 2020, Barcelona came calling but Lyon refused to let their talisman go despite the risk of losing him for nothing the year after. In 2021, he agreed to join the Spanish giants, his dream club, as a free agent. At a time when Barcelona are on the decline, losing arguably the greatest footballer of all time, Depay decided to take on the responsibility like he did in France. His 2 goals and 1 assist in 3 La Liga matches this season is a testament to this.
Although Depay has looked forward to playing alongside Lionel Messi – “I’m very much looking forward to playing with him, his quality is undoubted,” said Depay at his unveiling. I have to just make my runs and I know the ball will come. Because he has too much quality, he can do everything with the ball. I think everybody in the world would like to play with someone like that” – but the Argentine’s departure has not stopped him from shining bright, refusing to be taken aback by the event.
Not only has he taken up a pivotal role in his club side, he has also become the ultimate man in the Dutch national team. Asides his record-matching 12 goals in 2021, he has also levelled the Netherlands and Barcelona legend Johan Cruyff on the all-time top goalscorers list for the Netherlands.
His 33 goals for his country means he is now only two goals behind Ruud van Nistelrooy. Although Robin van Persie still tops the chart at 50, it suddenly doesn’t look out of reach for the 27-year-old. His sheer grit and determination has seen him rise from what could have been a downward slope 6 years ago.