The winger cut a confident figure upon his arrival at Old Trafford, but his performances on the pitch and thirst for the good life off it, have raised eyebrows inside the club
COMMENT By Kris Voakes
While most people in the room were busy asking United manager Louis van Gaal about the future of David de Gea, Depay quickly ensured he became the focus of attention by playing down comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo but insisting he would aim to hold a similar standing with the club’s supporters.
“I don’t want to say I can be like somebody like that, but I think I can excite the fans,” he told reporters.
“It’s not easy, of course. I have trained three times this week and I already feel the difference from playing in the Dutch league. I have to prove myself and work hard so I can show the boss I can handle it.”
His new manager liked the way Depay backed his own ability, and the reward for the 21-year-old was the coveted Manchester United No.7 shirt.
“I think he’s one of the few highly-talented boys of his age,” Van Gaal said of the Netherlands international. “He’s full of confidence, as you can hear, but he also knows there’s a difference between the Premier League and the Dutch league.”
And right now, Depay is certainly feeling it. With just one goal in eight Premier League appearances the former PSV star has massively underwhelmed in front of goal, while his all-round contribution has left many fans frustrated. His failure to have an impact in the fixtures against Liverpool and Arsenal – United’s two most high-profile games so far – resulted in him being substituted at half-time on both occasions.
It didn’t get any easier for him during the recent international break either. While the Netherlands crashed out of European Championship qualifying, Depay’s form dropped to new lows. His inability to find team-mates with simple passes at regular intervals against Kazakhstan and Czech Republic came at a time when he is still looking to impress Van Gaal, who cherishes ball retention above all else.
Depay also ran into trouble on the Dutch squad’s practice pitch when Robin van Persie reacted angrily to him not passing the ball during a training match. The pair came to blows momentarily and, while it was soon forgotten by the two players, it has been held up by some as the latest example of Depay’s lack of professionalism.
When he first arrived in Manchester, Depay demanded a six-bedroom apartment with a private pool and a cinema room only to be told that the club’s usual practice is to offer new players less extravagant premises in the city’s leafy suburbs near their Carrington training ground.
After showing a desire to be based close to compatriot Daley Blind, the attacker ended up moving into the city centre’s Beetham Tower, the tallest residential building in Europe which offers breath-taking views across Manchester.
It also used to be home to Mario Balotelli during his wild-child spell across the town with Manchester City and, while Depay won’t necessarily end up treading the same sort of path, it is clear that city-centre living is not United’s preferred choice of accommodation for their star signings. And quite what the club made of the recent delivery of his boxing ring – previously set up in his Eindhoven apartment – remains to be seen.
The Dutchman’s love of the social scene has been raised as a concern lately, with his decision to go out on the town immediately following United’s 3-0 loss at Arsenal last time out resulting in stern words in private from Ryan Giggs. The assistant manager expressed a worry that his work hard, play hard demeanour was losing a sense of balance.
After a match in which Depay failed to have any impact in attack and showed no inclination to track back and help an overwhelmed midfield, he would doubtless have been better served keeping a low profile. His outlandish clothing and expensive accessories are harmless enough, however headline-grabbing they tend to be, but ill timing of a night out is a sure-fire way to get people’s backs up.
Still, much of this will be forgotten if he can begin to find his feet on the pitch. He is known to be a diligent trainer, and a consistent delivery of the hard work he promised upon his arrival may well help him to turn the corner. The problem with being Manchester United’s No.7 is that a huge amount is expected, and quickly – especially if you have arrived for £25 million.
But a brash exterior will only pile on more pressure, and that is where the Netherlands international is currently finding life tough. If you’re delivering on the field, such an approach is considered to be healthy confidence. Struggle, and it is seen as arrogance.
Ajax manager Frank de Boer said this week that he believes Van Gaal is the perfect man to make a United great out of Depay.
“I think Depay needs that kind of coach,” he told Omnisport. “He has a great mentality but still he is very young and has to know what he has to do to stay on that level or even get better. I think Van Gaal is the right person for that.
“I think he can be a great player for Manchester United because he has everything; he has speed, he has technique, he can score goals and physically he is very strong.”
In the demanding world of modern football, United fans will be hoping Van Gaal can work his magic sooner rather than later to drag Depay out of his current funk.
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