Football Features

Where Memphis Depay could go if Ligue 1’s top creator actually leaves Lyon

By CJ Smith

Published: 13:40, 27 May 2019

Memphis Depay has well and truly reignited his career since moving to Lyon in January 2017.

The Holland international looked like a busted flush during his ill-fated spell under Louis van Gaal at Manchester United. But in the heart of France, he’s redefined himself as a false nine, notching 39 goals and 40 assists in 116 games so far and proving key to his side’s impressive European campaigns in recent years.

But as ever for Ligue 1 sides, unless you’re Paris Saint-Germain, top-class players won’t hang around for long if one of the European giants come calling.

And so, with the rumour mill working overtime thanks to Depay’s Instagram clip of him boarding a plane with the caption ‘Merci Lyon’, Squawka has taken a look at some of the dream, realistic and wildcard prospects facing him this summer.

Dream: Real Madrid

Since losing Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus last summer, Los Blancos have been absolutely terrible. After winning four Champions League titles in five years, they were dumped out of the competition by Ajax on their own turf, crashed out of the Copa del Rey with defeat to arch-rivals Barcelona and finished third in La Liga behind them and their other nemesis, Atletico Madrid – losing 12 games along the way. That’s the most they’ve lost in a single La Liga season since the 1998/99 campaign. Missing Ronaldo much?

That said, this is still Real Madrid, the club that pretty much every player in world football would give everything to play for, unless they pray at the church of La Masia.

Gareth Bale was supposed to be the man to fill Ronaldo’s shoes but this season, that just hasn’t happened. Despite scoring goals in two Champions League finals and a Copa del Rey final, as well as notching 102 goals in 231 games for Los Blancos, Zinedine Zidane seems to have made his choice.

This would leave Real desperately short of experienced, top-class talent up front. Depay’s ability to play right across the forward line, score from any range and create goals for his teammates would make him a very desirable option for Zidane. He wouldn’t be the sole solution to all of Real’s problems but he would go a long way to gearing them up for a rejuvenated title challenge next season.

Dream: Manchester City

Racking up 98 points and sweeping up both domestic cups, Man City destroyed everything English football could throw at them last season. But as we all know, to remain successful, you cannot rest on your laurels.

Pep Guardiola faces the very real prospect of losing Leroy Sane to Bayern Munich this summer and while Riyad Mahrez has recently stated he is happy to stay and fight for his place, for now, that could soon change if he continues to warm the bench.

If you’re going to come back to England, who better to work under than Guardiola? Depay created 111 chances in Ligue 1 last season, 24 more than any other player in the division. He is comfortable playing right across the front three, meaning he could hit the byline a la Sane, cut inside to get a shot at goal like Mahrez, or play through the middle to create space and link play, offering something a little different to both Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus.

City have arguably the most talented group of players in world football right now and play a super-attractive brand of attacking football. If Depay really wants to test himself at the top again, this could be the place to do it.

Squawka suggests: Real Madrid

City face the very real prospect of being banned from playing in the Champions League in the 2020/21 campaign, while Madrid are almost certain to qualify for Europe’s top table even in their worst seasons, like the one they’ve just endured.

Ronaldo has still not been replaced and Bale looks set to leave, leaving Zidane with a real shortage of options in the attacking third. Depay would get far more playing time at the Bernabeu, while also fulfilling one of his own prophecies from 2017.

“I believe I am going play for Real Madrid, that is my goal,” he said.

Realistic: Liverpool

Players aren’t allowed to move between Man Utd and Liverpool anymore, that hasn’t happened since Phil Chisnall swapped Manchester or Merseyside all the way back in 1964. Well, there’s no rule against it but can you imagine the uproar?

However, swapping Manchester for Merseyside via Lyon may be a viable option, if recent reports are to be believed. Depay’s aforementioned Instagram story sent Liverpool fans into overdrive, especially considering journalists such as Kevin Palmer – one of the first to break Virgil van Dijk’s impending move to Liverpool in 2018 – started throwing up Depay’s old tweets while at United, hinting the Dutchman may have to delete some of them soon.

Depay is also a close friend of Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum from their time together at PSV and with the Dutch national team, a reunion may be on the cards.

But all speculation and conjecture aside, Depay’s move to Anfield would make total sense. Liverpool pushed Man City all the way in last season’s Premier League title race but when Guardiola had the likes of Sane and Mahrez to bring off the bench, it’s easy to see why Jurgen Klopp’s options of Daniel Sturridge and Xherdan Shaqiri didn’t quite match up.

Depay has moulded himself into a Roberto Firmino-esque centre-forward during his spell in France, dropping off the front line to both link play and create space for quick wingers either side of him. In Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, Depay would have the perfect partners to exploit that space.

There’s no saying he would supplant Firmino in the starting XI but in the same breath, Liverpool desperately lack midfield creativity and the Brazilian has shown in the past that he’s perfectly capable of dropping into that role. If Klopp can successfully get all four of these onto the pitch, the Reds would be primed and ready to take on City again next season.

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Realistic: Paris Saint-Germain

Just like Bayern in Germany, PSG love to mop up the best talent from their Ligue 1 rivals. We all remember them tearing Kylian Mbappe away from Monaco, right?

Well, as much as Mbappe has been a raging success in Paris, his recent comments have hinted toward a move away. A terrifying prospect for the powers that be at PSG, as well as their fans.

Should that happen, Depay may well become a very tempting option for the Ligue 1 champions. The 25-year-old can play off the left-wing, driving inside to get a sight at goal or using his creative streak to service the ruthless goalscoring talents of Neymar.

Moreover, he would cost a fraction of the fee they’ll fetch for Mbappe, leaving Thomas Tuchel with plenty of funds to strengthen elsewhere, while weakening one of their closest title rivals – although, such is the state of the French top flight, we’re measuring in distances usually used by NASA.

Squawka suggests: Liverpool

If Klopp decides to keep Firmino up top and sign a creative midfielder, it could be tough for Depay to command a permanent starting role but regardless, he has to back himself here, rather than moving to PSG for the easy ride to trophies.

Depay has all the prerequisite skills of an ideal Klopp forward and with Liverpool wanting to challenge on all four fronts next season, game time should be abundant regardless of who is first-choice.

Wildcard: Atletico Madrid

Antoine Griezmann announced he will depart Atletico Madrid this summer with a video on the club’s Twitter account, leaving a chasm to fill in Diego Simeone’s attacking options.

Of course, Griezmann’s most valuable asset wasn’t his outright ability to score goals, it was his tendency to drop into build-up play and create for others – the France international created 74 chances in La Liga last season, the fourth-highest in the division.

We’ve already mentioned why Depay would be the perfect replacement in this regard. The similarities between these two players on the ball are striking, while Depay would make very good financial sense for the men upstairs at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Of course, Depay would have to vastly improve his work-rate and defensive contribution to work under Simeone – Griezmann made the ninth-most tackles (31) of any La Liga attacker last season while Depay just 12, 55 behind Ligue 1 leader Renaud Ripart (77) of Nimes. But if he didn’t know this already, he clearly hasn’t watched a single Atletico game in the past few years.

Wildcard: Manchester United

On the surface, this sounds completely absurd. The wildest of wildcards. Dig a little deeper, though, and it would appear United may have been planning to bring Depay back all along.

Reports from the Manchester Evening News suggest United slipped a buy-back clause into Depay’s move to Lyon, just in case he proved to be a success in France, while former boss Jose Mourinho hinted to such an agreement while he was still in the United hot seat.

When asked about the Depay buy-back option, Mourinho told reporters: “Because potentially he’s a very good player. I think when Mr Van Gaal decided to buy him he did well, he knew him very well from the national team, he was very young when at the World Cup he had flashes of top quality.

“He was playing well in Holland, we know the Dutch league is not the same but he was showing very good things. So I think Mr Van Gaal and Manchester United did very well to buy him.

“He didn’t succeed in his 18 months but he’s very young so I think it’s important for the club to complete control of this talent and we all wish he plays very, very well at Lyon and why not to come back because everyone here likes him.”

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, more than any of the other top teams in England, is due a sizeable overhaul this summer. As proven by Paul Pogba’s return to Old Trafford in 2016, United are not scared to bring former players back to do this…

Squawka suggests: Atletico Madrid

…But we all know how things have gone for Pogba. Fallouts with Mourinho and rollercoaster-esque dips in form have tainted his United return, as have criticisms aimed at his commitment.

If Depay were to join Atletico, he’d have the chance to work under one of the best managers in world football, who could improve every facet of his game, tenfold.