The Dutch forward has enjoyed a journey of personal growth at Lyon, and if he moves to Camp Nou in the summer he is sure to be an asset
He was considered a failed prodigy in England when he arrived at Lyon in January 2017. He was not the kind of player who could cope in the Premier League at Manchester United.
After four and a half years, he will likely leave Bois d’Or to begin his career in Barcelona as a battle-hardened leader.
On Sunday, Memphis will play his final match for Lyon, against Nice. It would be a fitting end for Memphis’ career with Lyon if he could add to the 76 goals he scored, or the 55 assists he made, to qualify them for next year’s Champions League.
“I was barely 23 when I arrived here,” Depay told L’Equipe. “I’ve changed, I’ve grown up. I’ve become a man here. When I look back, it’s beautiful to see.
I’ve made many memories here and formed friendships. This was my home. It’s strange to think this is my last game here and it makes me sad to leave without fans, but my family and friends will be with me.”
“I had a great time here, I played in the Champions League, I became a captain, a better player and a more complete player.”
It was more a question of stylistic differences between Memphis and Van Gaal than anything else when he arrived at United from PSV, and Memphis was labelled as a flop soon afterward.
For the Dutchman, it was a setback, but one he swore would not be terminal.
“I SAID TO MOURINHO: ‘YOU WILL SEE ME AT THE TOP’,” HE EXPLAINED TO THE TIMES ABOUT HIS MAN UTD DEPARTURE. “HE SAID: ‘OK, AND I HOPE WE WILL BUY YOU BACK ONE DAY’.”
His talent and self-belief have never been in doubt. Just two months after arriving in Lyon, he was already in full flow. In a Ligue 1 fixture against Toulouse, he confirmed his quality by scoring with an outrageous shot from virtually the halfway line.
A number of other highlights have followed, including a sprint sprint victory in the Velodrome against Marseille and, memorably, a dramatic stoppage-time goal against Paris Saint-Germain.
What has been increasingly impressive about Memphis, though, is how well he has stood up to adversity, both when he has been on the receiving end of fouls and when he has seen his teammates suffer.
Memphis was restrained by his teammates after challenging the supporter.
He later commented: “When someone on the team’s not supported by the fans, what do you expect from the players? If you have time for that, you really need to have something better to do with your life.
“They spat on us. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The public relations response was impulsive and clumsy, but it gained him respect within the locker room as well as support from a large section of the fan base.
“Memphis Depay is a real captain: he acted and spoke as a captain,” head coach Rudi Garcia said. “It shows all the cohesion, solidarity and character of this group.”
It also showed the character of a player gaining all the time in his leadership qualities.
Depay told L’Equipe this week: “I’m calmer and additional responsibilities have pushed me to think twice before acting.”
Yet Memphis will always be Memphis, and that means wearing his heart on his sleeve at times, which has a magnetic appeal to many.
He possesses outstanding perseverance, having suffered a serious knee injury last season, and after the Final tournament was postponed for a year, his commitment has served as a springboard to his best season to date.
On his comeback match, he struck a hat-trick, setting the tone for his campaign. He is the only Lyon player since Opta records began to hit 20 or more goals in a Ligue 1 season and combine that with 10 or more assists.
Memphis sits on 20 and 10 respectively and has the chance to add to that tally in one final game. It is an achievement that is absolutely remarkable.
Cash-strapped Barcelona are currently rebuilding their squad with Messi’s future unclear and reports of an agreement being negotiated with Sergio Aguero, who is leaving Manchester City. If they can, they should take up Memphis’ offer.
His promise to Mourinho could well be kept and, at 27, this is Memphis’ chance to do himself justice.