The problems Manchester United have had replacing Sir Alex Ferguson are well-established, poor David Moyes’ tenure beginning and ending in very public fashion and Louis van Gaal at times convincing and at times not. But, perhaps because he left so long ago, it’s easy to forget United have never really replaced what Cristiano Ronaldo offered. Could Memphis Depay be the one they’ve been waiting for?
It was 2009 that Ronaldo left for Madrid, becoming for a few years the most expensive player in the world. There’ve been stopgaps since – Robin van Persie’s title-winning contribution the most notable – and Wayne Rooney has been a stalwart, if not always a prolific one, but the fantasy the Portuguese provided has never been matched. Luis Nani had his moments, though few and far between, Shinji Kagawa struggled in the Premier League and the others, from Bebe to Adnan Januzaj, either never had it or have yet to show enough to judge.
Ronaldo claimed 26 goals in his final season at United, when he was just about to become the world superstar he is today. Memphis, to use the name that adorns the same No. 7 shirt Ronaldo made his own, hit 28 in all competitions in his last season at PSV Eindhoven. Most of the goals came in the Eredivisie, a league inferior to the Premier League in which Ronaldo starred and Memphis now finds himself, but nevertheless, an achievement not to be sniffed at.
It took somewhere between £25m and £30m to get Memphis to Manchester, United reportedly fending off interest from Paris Saint-Germain and, according to the PSV higher-ups, Liverpool, although Brendan Rodgers disputed that claim. He’s available for 8m through EuroFantasyLeague, though, the fantasy football game that combines the continent’s top divisions and allows players to build a 14-man squad with 100m to spend, and a limit of three players from any one team. If Rodgers wants Memphis after all, he could always sign up.
There were likely a few managers around the continent kicking themselves for not having faith in the 21-year-old when they saw his decisive contribution in the Champions League play-off against Club Brugge. The way in which Memphis juggled Michael Carrick’s pass away from the attendant defenders before taking his time and producing an unerring finish was Ronaldo-esque, and his second goal was pretty good too.
Van Gaal of course had an advantage, having worked with Memphis when in charge of the Netherlands. But it’s one thing to spot talent and another to coax it out on a regular basis. That’s the challenge now, for the manager and the player. It was only when Ronaldo produced week-in, week-out that he became one of the game’s elite players.
He did it with the guiding hand of Ferguson, under the glare of the Old Trafford limelight. More have wilted than have thrived and it’s too early to say which way Memphis will turn, but if van Gaal is to him what Ferguson was to Ronaldo, United will finally have another superstar on their books.