Former Man Utd star during Van Gaal’s reign is ready to make EMOTIONAL Old Trafford return on free transfer – His representatives already met with Ten Haag –
When it became clear to Memphis Depay that his time at Manchester United was up, he knew his next move had to be the right one. In opting to leave PSV Eindhoven for 18 miserable months at Old Trafford, he had gone from the golden boy of Dutch football to a player with something of a reputation and plenty more to prove.
Depay made the move to a club of United’s stature too soon in his career and he produced just seven goals in 53 games, only two of them in the Premier League. Restricted to just 20 minutes of league football in the first 21 games of Jose Mourinho’s tenure, the forward clearly had to start again.
But contrary to his reputation as a bit of a wild thing, he did something that no other player at the time was really doing. Along with his agency SEG, who now represent Erik ten Hag, he enlisted data firm SciSports to assess his best options.
As the company says on its website: “SciSports’ Datascouts composed a Player Report for Depay. The output of this report was a list of clubs which suited the requirements of the player. The report highlighted five suitable clubs for the next step in the career of Memphis Depay, based on SciSports’ algorithms.
“The report contained in-depth analysis of several factors, including the playing style of clubs and managers, competition in his favoured positions and other key points based on Memphis’ personal wishes. A SciSports delegation visited him at home to get to know his preferences. To reveal one of them – Memphis wanted to have more freedom when attacking so he could make optimum use of one of his key qualities; creativity.”
With the help of SciSports, Depay ruled out moves to Everton and Fenerbache before settling on Lyon in Ligue 1. Four-and-a-half seasons in France produced 76 goals in 178 games and his career was rebuilt. His 43 goals for the Netherlands leave him second on the all-time list, just seven behind Robin van Persie, and there have been 14 goals in 41 games for Barcelona.
His move to the Nou Camp hasn’t worked out and that is why he is seen as a potentially attainable option for United in January, especially given the balancing act they face between a lack of transfer funds and the desire to strengthen their attack.
“We are always in the market. But what you say, it has to match the sporting criteria but also the financial criteria,” said Ten Hag after the win against Nottingham Forest.
Depay, out of contract with Barcelona in the summer and potentially available on loan as well as the Catalan club try and ease their financial woes, fits the bill, yet there is a sense he is a forward who is unwanted around Old Trafford.
Most of that stems from his disastrous first spell at the club. His ego was out of check for a player of his stature at the time and he lacked professionalism away from Carrington. But players can change and the diligence with which he picked his next move was a clear sign that this is a forward who still wanted to get everything he can out of his career.
There are other signs he is a different player to the brash, blingy youngster who rocked up at United in 2015. His relationship with Louis van Gaal was difficult at the time, but they have smoothed things over since. Van Gaal included Depay in his World Cup squad despite an injury disrupting his build-up and he told the rest of the squad that Depay was the only player he would have done that for.
In a touching and typically humorous Van Gaal press conference, before they played Argentina in the quarter-finals in Qatar, the Netherlands boss said his relationship with Depay – who was sitting next to him at the time – had improved so much they now “kiss on the lips”.
Ten Hag knows what he would be getting with Depay, too. He was assistant manager at PSV between 2009 and 2011 when the forward was edging his way from the academy into the first-team picture. In his book on Ajax’s rebirth, Glorious Reinvention, Dutch football expert Karan Tejwani writes of Ten Hag: “He played an important role in the development of an emerging Memphis Depay, then with the youth teams at PSV, who, according to Ten Hag, needed the freedom to work his magic.”
It does feel like Depay ticks plenty of boxes for United in January. It’s worth remembering he is still just 28, in his prime years as a player, and would be joining a club he is familiar with and a manager he understands. Since his first spell at the club, Depay has shown he is a different character and his approach to leaving Old Trafford highlighted how much he valued getting the best out of his game.
The conditions could be ideal to give it another go in Manchester.