Memphis Depay is not a player who has grown used to adversity: he quite literally grew up with it.
Abandoned by his father at a young age, the Netherlands international bounced back from a difficult spell with Manchester United to star at Lyon, and after suffering a serious knee injury in December he once again showed his resolve by making a quick recovery that saw him back playing friendlies by July.
At 26, he is in arguably the most vital spell of his career. His contract expires in less than a year, and with Lyon unlikely to be playing European football next season, a departure from the Ligue 1 club appears a likely outcome.
After impressing against Paris Saint-Germain for OL in their ultimately failed attempt to win the Coupe de la Ligue final – they lost 5-4 on penalties after a scoreless draw – Memphis announced his return to the Champions League with a superb, dinked penalty against Juventus to send Lyon through to the quarter-final.
Lyon won the first leg 1-0, and Memphis admits he didn't even watch it.
“I didn’t watch football for the entire duration of my time out,” he told France Football. “It made me… emotional! It was better for me to cut myself off and focus on different things.”
Memphis, though, did have the game in the forefront of his mind, as evidenced by the floods of videos he posted on social media documenting his return to fitness. His determination to be ready for Euro 2020 – before it was postponed due to COVID-19 – offered further evidence of his love for the game, which he has rediscovered in France during a two-and-a-half year spell that has seen him mature on the field.
Nine goals in 12 Ligue 1 starts this season, plus six in six in the Champions League, only show part of his value to the team. He has had a galvanising effect on the team, growing into a bona fide leader, a champion of his team-mates, not simply content to look after his own affairs.
This is best exemplified by his angry reaction to a banner criticising team-mate Marcelo, which was displayed after Lyon secured their place in the knockout stages of the Champions League with a 2-2 home draw against RB Leipzig. After rallying from a 2-0 half-time deficit, it should have been a moment of celebrated but instead it was a low point in a difficult season that saw them finish seventh in Ligue 1.
Memphis charged towards the banner and tore it down.
“I’m upset, angry. I don’t know what to say,” Memphis, clearly furious, told RMC Sport. “You know how hard it is for the team when we know that somebody on our team has troubles with the supporters? What do you expect from us?
“You go to the supporters and thank them and they say crazy, crazy things about somebody’s family, somebody’s kids. I’ve got no words. It doesn’t make sense.
“You can see on the camera, the fans spit on us. What can I say? I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Crucially, though, the No.11 did not cross the line of indecency.
“It reminds me of my past, my life. I don’t want to be that man. I’ve matured, I’m calmer,” he added.
He’s a real captain, and he’s acted and spoken like a captain.Rudi Garcia
The moment won acclaim from head coach Rudi Garcia, who said: “He’s a real captain, and he’s acted and spoken like a captain.”
Memphis, though, is a player who is a magnet to critics. Free-spirited away from the field, he happily shows supporters that there is more to his life than football, and when his performances on the field dip, inevitably this is cited as a problem.
“It’s not super difficult to understand me if you know my background and my life,” he told France Football. “I won’t change that much. I’ll always be the guy I am, so of course I’ll be a little misunderstood. Some people wonder why I make music, why it looks like I’m pissed off, why I act like this. Honestly, it’s something I accept.
“I’m in pursuit of happiness and these things make me feel happy. Football is the thing that brings me the most, but I don’t play it around the clock. I need to find something else. I have many passions, many talents, so why not? If I feel good with what I’m doing, let me, I’m at peace. It’s only under these conditions I can play my football. If the coaches understand this, why shouldn’t I?”
Over his time in France, Memphis has won over the trust of the coaches and the fans at Lyon, but he is still seeking greater heights.
“I want to go to a club like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain or Bayern Munich,” he wrote in his 2019 autobiography ‘Heart of a Lion’.
“I want to go to a club which suits me. To a team which really wants to play football. I’m not even half-way through what I want to achieve. It's quite a list. Playing for Real Madrid. Winning the Champions League. Getting the Golden Ball for world's best player. Having €100 million in my bank account when my career ends. Starring in music, film and fashion. Starting a family. Doing good work in Ghana and other countries. I will conquer mountains whose height I don't even know yet.”
His injury is simply the latest setback in the challenges he has set for himself, but he is undeterred.
“I’ve worked tremendously hard and I’ve accomplished some things I wanted, others not,” he continued.
“I’m fighting to do it. I’m proud because I can look back and see what I’ve overcome. The injury, for example. Some people say I’ll never be the same but I’ve never given up.”
Memphis’ relentless hunger for new challenges may well take him to Barcelona next, with Ronald Koeman his former international boss and a big admirer. It's a platform he deserves.