Football Features

“He just wanted a team for himself” – Euro 2020 is Memphis Depay’s chance to earn the Messi treatment with Netherlands

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 15:53, 29 May 2021 | Updated: 16:00, 8 June 2021

Every Netherlands team is measured against Rinus Michels’ class of ’88, but the particular parallels with their Euro 2020 side won’t have escaped most people’s attention.

Oranje’s only major tournament triumph was unexpected, given how the 1980s had been shaping up. They had failed to qualify for back-to-back major tournaments (Euro 1984 and 1986 World Cup) and were outsiders for Euro 1988, at best.

Likewise, having sat out consecutive international finals (Euro 2016 and 2018 World Cup), little fanfare surrounds Frank de Boer’s men, who are not among the favourites to win this forthcoming pan-European event.


Euro 2020 outright odds (via William Hill)

  • France – 9/2
  • England – 5/1
  • Belgium – 6/1
  • Spain – 8/1
  • Portugal – 8/1
  • Germany – 8/1

Odds correct at time of writing. You have to be 18+ to gamble. Please game responsibly. For more information, visit begambleaware.org.


But like their predecessors, there’s plenty of self-confidence among the Netherlands squad and no one typifies that more than Memphis Depay, who is determined to make Euro 2020 his playground.

The indisputable leader of the gang

The 27-year-old forward is among Europe’s hottest free agents following his decision to leave Olympique Lyonnais, where he experienced a career resurgence. But while Lyon sporting director (and club legend) Juninho Pernambucano feels the Dutchman is exceptionally gifted, he has nevertheless publicly stated that Depay is guilty of overvaluing himself.

“Memphis Depay just wanted a team for himself. It’s not a criticism, I had a good relationship with him. But on the other hand, the whole team had to revolve around him and that is very hard. Everyone should feel like they’re working the same,” he told OLTV.

“There are only four players in the world where you have to do everything for them: Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar and Mbappe. If you have one of them, then the team can revolve around them. Sorry, I think that Depay is strong, but he’s not at their level. And I think that he has to work harder without the ball.”

Is there an element of truth in these words? Perhaps. To extract Depay’s best, you build a team around him just as you would with the world-class quartet Juninho mentioned. So the real question is whether he’s deserving of this status.

To an extent, he’s earned it, having provided 55 assists while bagging 76 goals for Lyon across 178 matches. And it’s not as if former coaches haven’t found success while indulging Depay. Former national team boss Ronald Koeman swiftly followed former Lyon head coach Bruno Génésio’s lead by fielding him in a ‘false nine’ role across various formations (4-2-3-1 being the most common), which paid dividends as the Netherlands returned from the international wilderness.

The Rotterdam native played 18 times under Koeman, all but two of which he spent in this new position. The result was being involved in 23 goals, with Depay scoring 11 himself. These performances ultimately saw him become Oranje’s very own Messi or Ronaldo and every sign is pointing towards a post-tournament move to the former’s Barcelona, regardless of whether Koeman still sits in the Camp Nou dugout according to reports.

Turning out for the Catalan giants would have been a pipe dream not so long ago. The last time Oranje played competitive summer football, Depay, then a brash 20-year-old promising winger, had enjoyed another successful campaign representing PSV Eindhoven, mustering 22 goals and six assists in 30 league appearances.

At the 2014 World Cup finals, he played four times under then-national team boss Louis van Gaal, who handed Depay his international debut just a few months prior to visiting Brazil. Depay would score twice while creating another goal. Van Gaal next joined Manchester United and took Depay with him, but his time at Old Trafford was frustrating to say the least.

Competition for places coupled with a struggle to acclimatise ultimately led to just 53 outings, in which he produced seven goals and six assists. Here was another young Dutch forward seemingly destined for obscurity after scrambling to reach football’s top level too young. It would have been an incredible waste. But thankfully, Lyon came knocking in January 2017, and he has never looked back since.

Memphis Depay stats in Ligue 1

(Above: Memphis Depay, Ligue 1 2019/20 – 2020/21)

Maybe this should have been the move he made first as leaving the Eredivisie to play in Ligue 1 is far less of a system shock. The leap isn’t so big, and Depay has knocked it out of the park. To say he’s outgrown that league would be hyperbolic but it’s clear Depay is ready for the next step. Barça are re-building and he’d be an incredible asset going forward, not to mention his familiarity with Koeman and his system.


Euro 2020 Golden Boot odds (via William Hill)

  • Harry Kane – 6/1
  • Romelu Lukaku – 7/1
  • Kylian Mbappe – 9/1
  • Cristiano Ronaldo – 14/1
  • Karim Benzema – 16/1
  • Memphis Depay – 18/1

Odds correct at time of writing. You have to be 18+ to gamble. Please game responsibly. For more information, visit begambleaware.org.


In the immediate present, Koeman’s successor De Boer has alternated between using Depay on the left flank and through the middle (four times on the left, six through the middle). Though don’t be surprised if he pops up as their striker at the Euros, considering his level of productivity when given a free role. Which would make him a dark horse for the Golden Boot award, especially against the defences of Austria and North Macedonia, which conceded nine and 13 goals in qualifying, respectively.

Through sheer relentless and self-belief, he’s become the Netherlands’ most valuable player. At times unplayable, Depay has a platform to show he can become everything Juninho says he’s not.

Oranje will need him to prove his former employer wrong this summer, as they are 14/1 to win Euro 2020 and with seven nations favoured ahead of them. Then again, being ‘underdogs’ suited the Netherlands before. It could do so again, especially if Depay is in the mood to demonstrate meteoric talent worthy of Messi-esque status and his own team in orbit.

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