The PSV Eindhoven winger has drawn comparisons with former United hero Cristiano Ronaldo but Jamie Thomas argues he’s more like the one who got away, Bayern Munich ace Robben.
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Football fans always loathe to see their transfer targets joining rival teams, especially those targets that have the potential to go on to be among the world’s best players. In January 2004, Arjen Robben was one of those players and Manchester United were in the driver’s seat to sign him.
The then-PSV Eindhoven winger was 19 years old at the time but he already looked like a future star. United had previously had great success in signing players from PSV, such as Jaap Stam and Ruud van Nistelrooy (and since then, Park Ji-Sung), therefore, rumours of the Red Devils nearing a deal for this latest Dutch wonder kid got a lot of supporters excited. But the move regrettably fell apart and Robben jumped ship to Chelsea instead, before going on to have an exceptional career with Bayern Munich.
Eleven years on, the United hierarchy have managed to get PSV’s latest prospect to sign on the dotted line – Memphis Depay will be reunited with former Holland boss Louis van Gaal next season as he joins for £25million.
Many commentators are comparing the signing to that of Cristiano Ronaldo back in 2003 but the comparison to Robben is a much more astute one. Both Dutchmen played over 100 games for their club and country at youth level before they made their big moves to England. The Portuguese ace had played less than 30 senior games at club level for Sporting Lisbon and just over 30 games for national youth teams by the time he arrived.
Depay’s national experience will show when he plays at Old Trafford as his decision-making is of a very mature level for someone who is only 21. However, Ronaldo – admittedly, three years younger when he moved to England – suffered criticism in his early days at United for displaying his immaturity when attempting dozens of stepovers before often putting in wayward crosses.
They’re physically quite different players, too. Ronaldo didn’t look like he was going to become the specimen that he is now until he was at least 23, while Depay is deceptively strong – and very good at positioning his body to protect the ball, much like Robben has always been.
Depay is incredibly versatile as well and can play across the front of a 4-3-3, although if he had to play centrally in that system it would probably have to be in a false No9 role. Quite who he’ll displace in United’s line-up is uncertain. But he isn’t coming to Manchester this summer to sit behind Adnan Januzaj and Nani in the pecking order, although similarly which one out of Juan Mata, Angel Di Maria or Ashley Young has to drop out of the rotation for the wide roles at the moment?
The Eredivisie top scorer is great at set-pieces, has a high work-rate and is full of confidence, so he seems to have all of the tools he needs to be a success at United. But fans shouldn’t expect to see the same man who has been a key figure for PSV this season right away when he comes to Manchester – it will take him time to settle in but he will get there in the end.
There are aspects of his game he’s still learning as you’d expect but not many players have the maturity he has at his age. He’s speedy and has an excellent shot, having netted 22 goals in 29 appearances this season. After 11 years of ruing a missed opportunity, it looks like the Red Devils have finally got their own Robben in the making.
Read more from Jamie Thomas here.