Germany’s famous footballing efficiency seems to have focused more on not scoring goals and losing to inferior teams recently than the kind of casual dismissal of opponents we’re used to. Saturday night provided the latest instalment in “Jogi Gets The Sack” as Die Mannschaft were manhandled by a Dutch team who’ve endured their own woes in the last few years.
The result against their bitterest rivals is an outlier the Oranje’s form since the 2014 World Cup. While Neuer, Mueller, Oezil et al were revelling in their post-World Cup winning glow, the semi-finalist from Brazil waved goodbye to their coach Louis van Gaal, destined for Man United, their captain Robin Van Persie and several other stalwarts from their 2010 final run and before, and with them went their qualification hopes for both Euro 2016 and Russia 2018.
While Daley Blind, another Dutch Red Devil, spent four years working on his luxury John O’Shea impression after signing in 2014, it was Memphis Depay who provided the biggest let down of the men from the low countries in their time at Old Trafford.
Just seven goals came in 53 appearances as the all-too-common image of a flopping attacker signed off his Eredivisie play got an airing for van Gaal’s first term in charge.
By the time the next season rolled around, Depay had worn out any good will and was sold to Lyon in January for £8m less than United paid Eindhoven for his services.
Which is what makes his sudden re-emergence to prominence amid the 3-0 Amsterdam assault so intriguing.
Now 24, the suspicion is, based on his form for both club and country, that United came too soon – or perhaps too late – for the former PSV man because, though he could count on the presence of his former national team manager, Depay would not benefit from the oversight and experience of Alex Ferguson.
As with so much around United these days, it’s hard not to wonder what might have become of the forward had his time come a few years earlier. While plenty of young players may have bristled under the great man’s cautious glare, as many wouldn’t deny they benefited from his careful tutelage and literal man-management.
He guided the likes of Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo to stardom, and cultivated countless other careers that did not hit the same heights but had great careers, either at Old Trafford or elsewhere.
Depay’s wasted 18 months in the English northwest represent not only a missed opportunity for the player, pursued as he was by a press begrudging of his identikit footballer lifestyle – the haircuts, the cars, the money, the “personal brand” – and performances that flashed without ever convincing, but it also cost United a player who is now in blazingly cocky form for both his new club, Lyon, and country.
The versatile forward buzzed with insouciant, inventive industry against the Germans in the Nations League, one moment turning the heralded Joshua Kimmich in knots with a no-look pass to a teammate on the edge of the opposition’s box, the next threading the finest of gaps down the right channel full-back Denzel Dumfries to fire across the box and force a fortuitous clearance from Mattias Ginter.
He added a goal, could have had a couple more, and was unrecognisable as the player that had slunk from Old Trafford under January 2017’s gloom. And it’s not just one game.
Last season Depay was central to the ascension of his club to the Champions League table once again. He scored 22 goals in 51 games, including a crucial hat-trick in a 3-2 over Nice on the last day of the season to keep his side ahead of Marseille by a single point and secure Ligue 1’s third UCL place for the current campaign.
Looking at him now, he could be the player van Gaal and United hoped they were signing in 2015. Like Wilfried Zaha two years before, the sense is the post-Ferguson vacuum sucked up potential stars and now the club is living with the consequences.
The Dutch team is now reaping the rewards of his resurgence, and a bigger club than Lyon will surely also benefit too in the not too distant future.