This article also appeared as part of the Ligue 1 review on GFFN and Guardian Sport.
‘Effective’ or ‘consistent’ aren’t terms usually associated with Memphis Depay but as Sunday dawned, his Lyon side fresh from a typically shambolic 4-2 win over bottom club Guingamp, only Cristiano Ronaldo, Leo Messi and Luis Suarez could boast superior combined goals and assists tallies in 2018 across Europe’s top 5 leagues. However, despite a successful year, the emergence of a reliable end product and a mooted return to Manchester United, his attitude continues to prove prohibitive.
Having been reduced to a role as a substitute for last month’s 2-1 win at Angers, Depay scoring off the bench, the Dutchman berated OL coach Bruno Génésio for what he saw as a long running lack of respect. “I am fed up of hearing that each time I changed the game,”said a frustrated Memphis in the mixed zone, “I do not always feel like I am a player who is respected. I do the job each time. I have to accept the decisions of the coach but I deserve more than this and I should be playing every match.”
Depay’s disgruntlement was obvious, sulking on the team bus and neglecting to take a full part in the warm up. The Lyon top scorer’s confrontational attitude had angered teammates, after he shouted at colleagues following a late equalizer for Hoffenheim in their Champions’ League encounter earlier that week, Memphis having been withdrawn 10 minutes before time after a fluctuating display of his own. Unimpressed, Génésio responded following the trip to Angers.
“I want to apologise Memphis,”retorted Genesio, “I want to apologise for all the times you were late, to apologise for all the kit that you wear that does not belong to the club, to apologise for the way you conducted yourself during the warm-up against Angers, your lateness and your lack of effort. If you want to have a great career, you must have humility.” According to L’Équipe, this dressing down was met with near universal approval from the rest of the Lyon squad.
Circumventing authority has long been an issue for Depay. Having been asked to keep a low profile by captain Wayne Rooney for been dropped from the first team in 2015 at Manchester United, Depay famously arrived for a reserve team game in a Rolls Royce while claims he had “nothing to prove to my manager”after scoring the winner against PSG earlier this year were matched by his off-hand summer suggestion that “obviously”he wanted to “play for a bigger club”than Lyon. While that may be a natural ambition, his lack of tact remained jarring. Although still just 24, Memphis has yet to move beyond the cheeky image of his early career and his puerile attitude now simply come across as childishness.
Perhaps most glaringly, these comments show a misunderstanding of his career trajectory to date and his standing in European football. Unable to truly shine at one of Europe’s elite clubs in Manchester and, at that point, equally unable to prove himself in one of the continent’s top leagues, the faith and patience Lyon have given him significantly contributed to rejuvenating his career. Such allowances may not have been afforded him elsewhere, while evidence that he could arrive at a ‘bigger’ club and have the same effect on the team as he has at Parc OL remains thin.
However, in the context of Lyon’s aims and Ligue 1, Depay’s confidence is not misplaced. A brace in Saturday’s win over Guingamp took him to 16 goals in 2018 while two further assists made it 13 in the same time period meaning Depay is now arguably Lyon’s most reliable and creative forward. This explosion of productivity can be largely attributed to his positional move into a central role, where he is devoid of defensive responsibilities, stumbled upon by Holland coach Ronald Koeman earlier this year and nurtured by Génésio.
Crucially, for now, Memphis and OL need each other. Depay’s flare for the dramatic has continually rescued Lyon in 2018 while OL’s defence remains alarmingly porous; conceding 16 goals in their last 8 matches. Lyon meanwhile continue to provide a platform, at this stage, for Depay to eventually realise his lofty ambitions and allow him to develop. Génésio has recognised this in, sarcastic dressing room apologies aside, quickly forgetting some of his player’s more robust comments. Depay meanwhile has yet to prove he is equally conciliatory, an attitude that will continue to dissuade Europe’s elite from gambling on him once more, despite his new found efficacy.
In March, Depay was asked he missed to become the best in the world. “Nothing in terms of quality,”he responded, “maybe just consistency.”Perhaps unexpectedly, consistency has since been achieved but, as Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas said this summer, as he dismissed Depay’s comments on aiming to play for a bigger club, in order for him to leave “there need to be offers.”Unfortunately for the Dutchman, as he sat glumly on a ball watching his teammates warm up at Angers, such offers seem further away than ever.
by Adam White