Memphis was not smiling. It looked wrong. It all looked wrong, even his place in the Manchester United lineup as they stood for the tear inducing UEFA champions league anthem as it rung out at Old Trafford after an agonizing one season’s absence. Memphis seemed far removed from the squad, standing at the farther most end from his captain Wayne Rooney, even after the towering Sergio Romero adorned in his all green kit. It looked rather deliberate, the self imposed solitude and the overly stern veneer. The optics might suggest the Dutch wonder kid looked disconnected from the rest of the team, not unlike how Pedro cut a forlorn figure at the winners podium after his goal secured the European Super Cup for Barcelona.
Photograph: Memphis in his own world as Champions League anthem is played. Photo by John Peters, Getty Images.
But this was clearly for two totally different reasons. The Canary Island super sub had grown tired of warming the bench at Barcelona, his future frustratingly uncertain at the time. Memphis it seems was in deep meditation to sharpen the mind for the task at hand. He had two very indifferent games so far before Brugge rolled into town. He looked determined to make his mark. He didn’t want to get lost in the euphoria of the grand European night; he did not have the time to court an occasion he intended to assault, once the referee’s whistle opened proceedings.
I believe the ex-PSV man had been too deferential in his opening games with United, especially to the man playing ahead of him. Here he had done away with all pleasantries, the quest to form an alliance with Wayne Rooney, to share the ball upfront with the skipper resulting mostly in unproductive one-two passes, all of that was done and over with. Rooney is the team’s leader on the pitch, but Memphis had to step out on his own to become his own man, and develop the selfish streak that is the hallmark of the very best attackers in the game.
Photograph: Memphis skips by Cools in UCL opening tie against Brugge. Photo by Alex Livesey, Getty Images.
The game itself started shabbily for United as their usually assured quarterback, Michael Carrick had an uneven game, started badly but recovered somewhat as the night progressed. Carrick first act was an errant pass, as he kicked the ball out of bounds missing both Schneiderlin and Darmain who where both generously within his line of sight. He then scoffed a ball clearance from a Brugge freekick into his own net, becoming the first player to breach Romero’s goal this season. And just when you thought the 34 year old had lost the plot, he delivers a first time ferocious pin point pass to Memphis who majestically chests the ball in traffic, coolly flicks the ball over the hapless Dion Cools, heads the ball down to feet, pushes the ball twice selling 3 Brugge players in hot pursuit down dummy creek, before slotting the ball into the net with his right foot.
Photograph: Memphis mesmerises Brugge defenders for United's opener. Photo by Oli Scarff, Getty Images.
Memphis had achieved separation. Just as he had separated himself from his fathers name, Depay, ripping it off the back of his kit, not wanting to pay homage to a man who walked out on him at an early age. Even his first ECL goal was not enough to solicit a smile from Memphis. He was still very business like, very much on a personal vendetta against himself. Now starting in his preferred position out on the left wing, he opted for more incisive runs; he was very direct and imposed his will by frequently cutting into the Brugge box causing havoc and commotion.
Rooney was seen berating Memphis after a passage of play that saw the United winger ignore the obvious pass out to the wing towards the overlapping Shaw. The cross from the wing is increasingly looking like Rooney’s only main source of joy in Van Gaals rigid 4-3-2-1 setup, so the captain’s disdain was well placed, even if well ignored by the No 7. Alex Ferguson once wrote that United’s assistant manager, Ryan Giggs “floated over the ground like a cocker spaniel chasing a piece of silver paper in the wind." Memphis is more like a raged pit-bull chasing a silver dollar to the top of future endorsement billings and an even higher profile at Old Trafford.
Photograph: Memphis congratulated by team mates. Photo by Oli Scarff, Getty Images.
Photograph: Brugge goalkeeper watches the ball as Memphis scores United's second. Photo by Matthew Ashton, Getty Images.
He started to relax a bit after his second goal, and what a stunner! He picked up the ball from a well placed Daley Blind pass, skipped past a defender, and curled the ball in the far side of the Brugge goal. The ball spinning on its axis rapidly, the Brugge goalie probably dizzied from watching the ECL stars imprinted on the ball go round and round. With better composure he would have had a hat trick, rather he relieved Van Gaal’s twitchy bum by buying United some luxury of comfort in the second leg in Belgium, by assisting for the red devils third goal of the night, scored via the head of the ever-willing Fellaini.
Some may scoff at his feat on the night because of the prominence, or lack thereof, of the opposition. However, the lad could only perform against who was put in front of him, and it could have all gone miserably wrong after United conceded the dreaded away goal. United look to have, or at least are harnessing a game changer in Memphis, and he is the type of player they desperately need. They do not need another player to compliment the squad, like Pedro, a nearly man – they already have a squad full of those. So all the drummed up hoopla about Chelsea gazumping United to the signature of the highly decorated ex-Barcelona man is just that – much to do about nothing.
Photograph: Manchester United squad photo before the game with Brugge. Photo by Alex Livesey, Getty Images.
Van Gaal was right to have doubts about a player who was not wholly committed to any other team other than Barcelona. A player who is vehemently opposed to spending any considerable time on the bench, will not lend a kind ear to team philosophies and soft pleas to bide his time away from the first team. Pedro probably already heard harrowing tales form his embattled ex-teammate Valdes about having to play in the U-21 side. We now know Jose Mourinho had a diametrically opposite view of Pedro’s worth. Time will tell who smiles last.