Monday 28 December 2015 12:49, UK
Memphis Depay arrived at Manchester United to great fanfare in the summer but he is struggling to live up to expectations. Here, Nick Wright looks at his difficult start at Old Trafford…
Memphis Depay pulled his shirt over his face after gifting Stoke City their opening goal at the Britannia Stadium on Boxing Day, and his disappearing act was complete when he was hauled off at half-time. The 2-0 defeat left Louis van Gaal's future looking more uncertain than ever, but it was an even more embarrassing afternoon for his fellow Dutchman.
Bojan Krcic and Marko Arnautovic increased the pressure on Louis van Gaal.
Before conversation turned to Van Gaal's future in the Sky Sports studio, former United striker Dwight Yorke addressed the error that allowed Bojan Krkic to put Stoke in front. "Memphis Depay's header is the worst diving header I've ever seen," he said. "You have to deal with those situations better, he has to be more decisive."
For Depay, it was another setback in what has been a tough start to life in the Premier League. The £27.9m winger arrived from PSV Eindhoven as one of Europe's highest-rated young talents, and he raised expectations still further when he asked to wear United's iconic No 7 shirt following Angel Di Maria's departure to Paris Saint-Germain.
A stunning double against Club Brugge in August augured well for the 21-year-old, but he has struggled to make an impact since then. Newspaper reports have described him a flashy character who shows up to training driving luxury supercars, but his botched backpass at the Britannia showed a glaring lack of confidence on the pitch. After recent games against Liverpool and Arsenal, it was the third time in 12 Premier League starts that he has been withdrawn at half-time.
Van Gaal's plodding style is not exactly the ideal environment for an attacker like Depay to flourish, but doubts are growing among supporters, and the manager's comments in October look all the more ominous now. "We have seen that some players cannot adapt to the team philosophy," he said. "You cannot know in advance before you buy them. You have to wait and see. That happened with Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao."
Last week Depay insisted "failure just isn't an option", but his carelessness at the Britannia hardly inspired confidence, and he admits the difference in quality between the Eredivise and the Premier League has taken him by surprise. "It's frustrating," he added. "I know I can do a lot better. I just had to settle in and get used to the football, to my new life in England.
"When playing in the Premier League, you have to be on top of your game every time. The difference is enormous. Defenders are physically strong, very fit and aren't afraid of anything. That was new to me. Good just isn't enough when you're playing for United."
Depay scored 22 goals in 30 league appearances for PSV in 2014/15, but that tally stands at just two in 14 this season. He has had more shots on goal than any other United player, but 15 of his 27 efforts have sailed high or wide, and he has struggled in a creative sense, too, with just seven scoring chances created in 14 appearances so far.
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United's collective struggles have not helped Depay's progress, but his troubles have not been isolated to his club either. He was dropped from the Netherlands squad after their failure to qualify for Euro 2016, and manager Danny Blind was publically critical of his temperament. "In football, you must function in a team - and he doesn't always do that," said Blind. "I told him that when I called him to say he wasn't in the squad. It's something he has to learn."
Blind's comments echoed those of Van Gaal in October, and they point to a loss of focus from a player who is struggling to cope with adversity for the first time in his career. Van Gaal has claimed Depay needs time to adjust, but the move looked like a perfect match in the summer, and it is troubling that the manager who oversaw his impressive performances at the World Cup has been unable to coax more from him at United.
Unlike Van Gaal, Depay does at least have time on his side, but he must look to himself to turn things round. There's plenty of work for United's No 7 to do if he's to start meeting those lofty expectations.