When he arrived at Manchester United, Memphis Depay was identified as the ideal man to don the No.7 shirt worn with distinction by Cristiano Ronaldo. He left 18 months later with his name more associated with Angel di Maria, the €75 million British-record signing whose Old Trafford spell in the same jersey was almost comically forgettable.
After such a speedy fall from grace, Depay could easily have failed to reignite his career. His early promise at PSV – he scored 28 goals in the 2014-15 season before his transfer to the Premier League – had dissipated, and Memphis was now damaged goods. He was now the guy who was asked to play in a reserve game after making a key error for the first team, only to turn up for duty with the second string in a Rolls Royce and wearing a red leather jacket and cowboy hat. There was a suspicion Depay’s head wasn’t where it should be for a top-notch footballer.
But on Sunday he will lead the Netherlands into their Euro 2020 campaign as their key man after a qualifying campaign in which he scored six goals and assisted eight more to help the Dutch to a finals tournament for the first time since their 2014 World Cup semi-final run.
These days Depay is a mature 27-year-old who has wowed in his four-and-a-half years at Lyon since leaving Manchester. His 76 goals in 178 matches with Les Gones tell only half the story, as he has become a figurehead of a side consistently finishing in the top four of Ligue 1. The quality of some of his goals have had to be seen to be believed too.
When he steps out at the Johan Cruyff Arena for the Netherlands against Ukraine on Sunday, he is also in the shop window, because having turned down the chance to stay at the Groupama Stadium he is now considered one of the bigger talents on the free agency market this summer. Barcelona and Juventus have been mentioned among the clubs showing an interest, while some United fans have suggested it wouldn’t be the worst idea to bring back Depay now that he is closer to the finished article than the 21-year-old version they first brought in.
What he has so far managed at international level supports the opinion that this is now a different animal. He has found a new freedom which has allowed him to deliver in the famous orange shirt, and from the moment he scored a first-minute opener in the Netherlands’ opening game against Belarus, he made his side’s qualifying campaign pretty much his own.
The next four weeks, though, could really complete the renaissance. He has done a brilliant job of rebuilding both his career and reputation at Lyon, but if he is to truly excel at club level it may need to be at one of Europe’s biggest clubs. And while qualifying successes are one thing, a headline-grabbing run of form at a major tournament is what would really make his name as an international footballer.
A great Euro 2020 for Memphis would make him the true star of a nation and also serve notice of his intention to affect the very top of football in a way he failed to do in those 18 underwhelming months at Old Trafford.
Beware, group C. Memphis Depay has a point to prove.