Memphis Depay offered a glimpse into Barcelona’s near future with another scintillating display at the European Championship.
A goal, an assist and a hand in the Netherlands’ third goal against an admittedly poor North Macedonia team was further proof that Depay is front and center of this reborn Dutch team, whose stealthy progress in this tournament should be noted by the teams who they could face in the last 16 — their most likely opponents look like Portugal.
There have been a couple of false dawns for Depay. A teenage prodigy at PSV Eindhoven, he caught the attention of Manchester United, only for his big move to England as a 21-year-old in 2015 to disappoint, leaving many to suspect that the hype was overblown.
Depay joined United at a time when the club was in a state of flux and the fledgling talent may have benefited from more stability in those years, but he restarted his club career in France with Lyon — and that’s been the making of the new Depay.
Depay is in fine form in the EuropeanChampionship with two goals and two assists to his name
Depay became Lyon’s headline act and, while his club career has had its peaks and troughs, he’s always been trusted at international level since his Netherlands debut in 2013. That has a lot to do with Ronald Koeman, Dutch coach between 2018 and 2020, and Danny Blind, from 2015 to 2017, who both trusted Depay’s talent in orange.
Since his debut, Depay has earned 66 caps for the Netherlands, scoring an impressive 27 times in the process, but his peripheral role at the 2014 World Cup had been his only taste of a major international tournament — and this time round it feels as though he’s got something to prove.
North Macedonia, whose players gave their 37-year-old captain and national hero Goran Pandev an emotional send-off in what’s likely to have been his final game, came into this game already eliminated from the tournament. But Depay ran them ragged. The now 27-year-old now makes better decisions on the field than in those days in Manchester, and he led a blistering counter-attack before exchanging passes with Donyell Malen and hammering in the opener before the break.
Depay turned provider for Dutch captain Georginio Wijnaldum after the restart, showing the presence of mind to pick out the Liverpool midfielder, who then added a third a few minutes later after Depay’s shot was parried into his path.
Koeman, right, was Netherlands coach from 2018 to 2020 and will coach Depay again at Barcelona.
It’s not usually possible for a team that wear bright orange to go under the radar, but that’s exactly what the Netherlands are doing at this tournament.
A blend of youth and experience is allowing this famous football nation to make a strong return to the international stage after a few years in the doldrums.
They missed out on the last European Championship and World Cup and are without their inspirational defender Virgil van Dijk, who continues to recover from a long-term injury. But that doesn’t seem to be bothering them.
Juventus defender Matthias De Ligt is marshalling the back line with a maturity beyond his years, the midfield axis of Wijnaldum and Frenkie de Jong oozes class and, led by the reborn Depay, the Oranje now head to Budapest brimming with confidence.
Barcelona — and Depay’s old mentor Koeman — will be liking what they see from their new signing.