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Memphis Depay: Why the post-Man Utd rehab now almost complete

Memphis Depay. He's not there yet. But he's getting closer. And for those long time fans. The ones claiming there's more to him than green shoes and felt hats. The rehab is well inside it's final straight.

Jose Mourinho sent the rumour mill into overdrive last month, confirming Manchester United had a buy-back option in their deal with Olympique Lyon. The manager admitting Memphis, despite it being his decision to sell, was a player he admired.

"Potentially, he is a very good player. When Mr Van Gaal (former manager of United) decided to buy him, he did well," said Mourinho.

"He did not succeed in 18 months but he is very young so I think it's very important for the club to have total control of his talent and we all wish him to play very well in Lyon and why not come back because everyone here likes him."

But those words were not sparked by anything Memphis had achieved this season. Rather it was the way he closed out last term which had not just Mourinho among managers taking a second look at the Dutchman.

A decision to move Memphis inside saw him hit ten goals in OL's final nine games of the season, along with producing six assists. Necessity more than any great show of form convinced Lyon coach Bruno Genesio to chance his hand. Fitness concerns over Mariano Diaz, now of Real Madrid, and doubts over Memphis' defensive capabilities led he and his No2 Gerald Baticle to field the winger as a No9.

"It was decided in the final sprint, for the last ten games of the season," Baticle explains. "We immediately saw his qualities as a finisher, his powerful strikes of the right and left foot, his volleys and his presence in front of goal... He exploited them when he played on the flank, often cutting inside, but we wanted to allow him to use his strengths by putting him in more purposeful situations."

Significantly, Baticle adds: "Also, let's say that, if he forgets to run back, it is less harmful to the collective balance than if he is on the wing..."

But putting the cynicism aside, the decision was a masterstroke from Genesio. Memphis producing arguably career best form - and certainly the best run of performances he's managed since leaving PSV Eindhoven for United three years ago.

"We just allowed him to play to his strengths," continues Baticle. "We know he can cause problems for any defender. If he can find a little space to shoot, he can always produce something special."

Words which are now being echoed by Ronald Koeman, the Holland coach. Though that wasn't always the case. "He's a player who knows he can do more," was Koeman's message to Memphis at his first media conference as Oranje manager.

Cycle forward six months and attitudes and impressions have changed. Not least thanks to the influence of Genesio. Like the OL coach, Koeman has seen Memphis transformed by playing him centrally.

Just last week had Koeman declaring the sky was the limit. A goal and an assist for victory over Germany, plus another assist in the draw with Belgium, confirming Memphis was getting back to his form of late, last season.

"He's great, he's becoming a top player," enthused Koeman. "He has grown a lot and he works with his teammates. Many people have a wrong idea of him. Here he has the freedom he needs to be the best Memphis."

Signs of "growing up" are now clearly visible, with the attacker willing to be flexible, despite the positional switch being so personally successful.

"I played in several systems in my career, much on the left but also in attack or in the middle of the field," Memphis says, before significantly adding, "It's up to the coach to see where he can use me as best he can.

"But it's true that playing number 10 or striker, I have more freedom to flourish, to ask for the ball... I like this position, but I can play any position that the coach asks of me."

Since returning from the Oranje, Memphis hasn't looked back. A second goal of the season was struck in victory over Nimes, before he was on the scoresheet midweek at Champions League rivals Hoffenheim. That form of last season now fast returning.

Certainly Jean Michel Aulas, OL's ambitious president, believes his investment is now attracting more envious glances from rival chairmen.

"Memphis alternates between the exceptional and the less successful," smiles Aulas. "He has a crazy talent, and like all players who have, he is sometimes egocentric.

"But he's a boy so generous in attitude that at some point he is always rewarded. Beyond his talent, he is a true leader and it is a pleasure to have him on the team.

"He is not always easy to manage and understand but I know that many presidents would like to be in my shoes."

A sentiment that the former Dutch defender of Lille and Cannes, Adick Koot, agrees with.

For Koot, Memphis is now approaching a crossroads - and is growing more confident his countryman is now in a position to choose the right path forward.

"He sets the bar very high with a fairly 'Ronaldo-like' arrogance. Cristiano Ronaldo also irritated people before confirming his talent. The real question for Memphis is whether he will become a (Hatem) Ben Arfa or a Ronaldo. He is at a stage in his career where he will swing to one side or the other."

And on current evidence, it's more likely Real Madrid than Hull City where Memphis Depay will next be calling home.


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Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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