Memphis Blues: Can Depay Relaunch His Career At Lyon?
“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some become strong at the broken places.” Ernest Hemmingway
There’s a Japanese art form known as kintsugi which is the reconstruction of shattered pottery with lacquer mixed with gold. The idea is to recognize the beauty in broken things and embrace the damage.
If any player is in need of a footballing version of kintsugi it is Memphis Depay, the Dutchman who promised so much but failed to deliver when given the stage to become a bona fide superstar.
There are questions aplenty regarding his talent and ability. Did he only stand out in the Eredivisie because the standard of Dutch football is arguably poor? Did he fail at Manchester United because his attitude was distinctly unprofessional? Was his decline a result of being improperly coached and managed by Louis van Gaal?
Whatever the reasons his career at Old Trafford is over and he now needs to pick up the pieces at Olympique Lyonnais. The question is can Memphis rebuild after a chastening experience at Manchester United?
The move itself is not without controversy given the size of the fee balanced against Memphis’ lack of progress in recent years. The cost, €16.5 million plus add-ons, is only the third time OL have gone beyond the eight digit mark since 2010 and represents arguably the club’s biggest gamble since they shelled out €22 million for Yoann Gourcuff.
Jean-Michel Aulas, Olympique Lyonnais’ owner, played up the positives of Memphis’ impending arrival, citing the player’s “panache” and “immense talent”, but even he let slip that the signing is a “bet”.
So what is the risk/reward scenario when it comes to Memphis? Simply put, in terms of risk, the fear is that Memphis won’t be able to reach, let alone better, the levels of performance and consistency he attained at PSV Eindhoven. For all the social media bravado it must be difficult for Memphis to recover his sense of self; after all he was touted as one of Europe’s most gifted talents and within the space of 18 months he’s seen his stock plummet dramatically. Even a player of Memphis’ confidence and ego must be questioning himself and we will only discover the extent to which he’s broken once he is free from his Old Trafford purgatory.
Another point to ponder is whether Aulas is simply replacing one problem with another. It’s clear that Rachid Ghezzal’s time at Olympique Lyonnais is coming to an end with rumours that he may move to Monaco, a transfer that would leave a bitter taste in the mouth of Lyon’s owner. But given the questions about Memphis’ attitude and lifestyle the potential of huff overshadowing puff is too much to ignore.
But then there are the tantalising upsides: firstly Memphis is a footballer with something to prove. A cliché it may be but proving critics wrong is a great motivator for any professional footballer worth their salt.
Secondly, the potential of an Alexandre Lacazette-Nabil Fekir-Memphis Depay frontline is frightening if everything clicks together. Lyon’s formation and attacking outlook complements Depay’s style of play so the environment is there for him to flourish. Factor in Aldo Kalulu’s loan away from the club, Ghezzal’s near-inevitable exile and the rest of the attacking options looking decidedly young; there is space for Depay to slot into the first team straight away and get his career up and running again.
The key to whether the move will be successful or not is head coach Bruno Génésio. If there is a case study as to whether Génésio has the ability to get the best out of talented yet difficult players one only needs to look at his management of Rachid Ghezzal. Despite facing challenging situations with the Algerian, last season and this, Génésio managed to coax decisive performances out of the player. The OL head coach also helped resurrect the career of former United favourite Rafael da Silva, proving that there’s life outside Old Trafford.
The Lyon boss’ nurturing approach could be just what Memphis needs as he clearly couldn’t come to grips with Louis van Gaal’s philosophy and wasn’t willing or ready to meet the demands set by José Mourinho.
The major differences to the examples above are that Génésio coached Ghezzal from a young age whilst Rafael’s attitude has never been anything other than exemplary. In Depay the Olympique Lyonnais head coach is handling damaged goods and it will be up to him to help put the Dutchman back together again. In order to succeed in that rehabilitation Depay will need to embrace his hardship and trust that Génésio is capable of steering his career in the right direction again.
Tennis great Rod Laver once said that “the time your game is most vulnerable is when you’re ahead; never let up.” When Depay arrived at Manchester United he was ahead of the curve but for one reason or another he allowed others to pass him by. The need to catch-up is imperative but only the Dutchman can ultimately determine whether he’s strong enough to work his way back.
There will be a different kind of pressure when he arrives at the Parc OL. He’ll be a key player, though not the main man, and given the transfer fee will be afforded the time to recover his form and confidence. However the onus is on Memphis to ultimately pick up the shards of his career, ensure that the experience makes him stronger and rebuild himself as a footballer.
For too long his name has been more closely associated with fashion statements and flash cars rather than footballing excellence. Memphis has a golden opportunity to start afresh, acknowledge his failures and come back stronger.
Old Trafford did break Memphis to a certain degree but at Lyon the Dutchman can show the world that he’s capable of becoming stronger at those broken places.
The transfer represents a risk for both Lyon and Memphis, a big one but it also offers the opportunity to reconstruct an undoubted talent.
Or, to borrow from the philosophy of kintsugi: turn the original, broken Memphis into more beautiful player.
You can follow Thariq Amir on Twitter @LeFalseNumber12