Daniel McDonnell: United steal march on Liverpool, but Depay far from the finished article
Manchester United stole a march on Liverpool to wrap up a deal for Memphis Depay, but fans of the Anfield club do know that going Dutch can have its pitfalls.
Eight years ago, Ryan Babel was hailed as the next big thing as he rocked up at Liverpool following a big money move from Ajax. There are parallels with Depay in the sense that he was in his 21st year and had been introduced to the wider world at the previous year’s World Cup, although injury curtailed Babel’s involvement.
He had the potential to be an excellent recruit - Marco van Basten likened him with Thierry Henry - yet he failed to deliver on it. Babel, who now plays in Turkey with Kasimpasa, recently suggested that his mistake was leaving home too soon. “I left Holland too early,” he explained, “I probably should have stayed one more year for my development but these things happen. I definitely made the wrong choices.”
United’s last big purchase from PSV Eindhoven was Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2001, a move that was delayed by injury problems and he did prove to be a resounding success. He was 25, and ready to slot straight into Alex Ferguson’s team. As an out and out striker, it was a more straightforward transition. Depay is an all-rounder, described as a ‘young Cristiano Ronaldo’ by his esteemed fellow countryman Ronald de Boer.
United fans will be hoping that the Louis van Gaal connection ensures that he settles smoothly into his new surroundings. Depay is by no means the finished product and Dutch observers say that he has to improve his decision making; he was initially regarded as a short tempered youth but the feeling is that he has matured in the past 12 months.
The veteran manager brought the youngster to Brazil with the national team last year, and he made history by becoming the youngest Dutch scorer in a World Cup by striking against Australia and then Chile.
When Holland switched to a 4-3-3 formation, Depay was sprung from the bench to suit that formation. His goal tally of 21 from 28 matches this term is extremely impressive as he is not PSV’s central attacker. As a right footer who is effective cutting in from the left flank, he will be viewed as a considerable upgrade on Ashley Young and offers Van Gaal flexibility in terms of his preferred strategy.
Deploying him in an advanced role is part of overhauling a shot-shy striking department that has produced a combined total of just 28 goals this year. Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Falcao have failed to inspire and this move would infer that management are preparing to usher in a new generation.
Ironically enough, one criticism of Van Gaal’s last act with Holland was his benching of Depay for the World Cup semi-final defeat to Argentina. Van Persie looked a shadow of himself, a sign of things to come this season, and when it came to replacing the tiring attacker, Klaas Jan Huntelaar was summoned. Few had sympathy for the one-paced and lethargic Dutch side when they were knocked out on penalties.
Depay could have given them the spark but, while Van Gaal was fond of the player, he evidently had concerns about pitching him into that level of encounter. He needs a big-time performer now and shelling out £25m would indicate that any doubts have disappeared.
His job now is to ensure that this precocious talent becomes another Dutch success story.