Sometimes you get a hint early on, a small insignificant detail that sets off a subconscious part of your brain and rapidly rounds into the suspicion that whatever this is, it’s not quite what you signed up for. Those triggers can be imperceptible. Sometimes that sign may be writ large, billboard style, and the deflation sets in faster. It was probably more akin to the latter for Memphis Depay while he was making his home in Barcelona this past summer.
When he signed his ‘dream’ contract, he was working for his old manager at a club looking to regain its prestige in a hurry. Working in his department would be one of the greatest ever to do it and two World Cup winners. He was arriving to add his swagger and virtues to a creative department that had talent and needed balance.
By the time the season actually arrived, he had been declared leader of the attack by proxy and by the time he returned from national duty, that frontline had been spectacularly gutted. In fairness, he initially took the knight in shining armour narrative in his stride – not breaking it in order to hammer home a vital equaliser away in Bilbao.
Yet two months further down the line and that shiny armour was now faded metal, the knight in question was bogged down in the battle. It was noted that for all his fine fencing skills, he was making little material difference in the conflict. In fact, it was younger, braver souls who were laying down the gauntlet. The youngsters, who substituted experience and nous for clarity of purpose, were the ones dominating the scene.
After a demoralising spell in Manchester early on, Memphis had to rebuild all of his confidence, reputation and career in France. There he was afforded conditions to make use of his undeniable technical ability; Manchester United continue devouring talent to this day. At the end of his contract however, there was an explicit effort to ensure he made it to Barcelona. With more lucrative offers elsewhere, he was single-minded that he wanted another shot at the big-time.
On his return from injury, Memphis again finds a different proposition from the one he left via injury in a 3-0 defeat to Bayern. Xavi has set out a clear template for his attackers; the central player must prioritise intelligent movement and be unselfish with that, the wider attackers must find a way past their markers. Neither of which Memphis has shown an aptitude for so far. A feature of his play has been over-elaborate touches, twisting and toiling with both defenders and frustration. Contrast this with Ferran Jutglà, who does simple things well and features purely when necessary.
The man who celebrates with his fingers in his ears must do his utmost to listen to his manager on his return – applying himself as Xavi desires before adding his own spin. The emergence of Ez Abde and the arrival of Ferran Torres mean competition will be fierce and he has a short grace period to earn his spot, to make good on his big shot. If he wins his place and protagonism, he could lead Barcelona’s revival; if he loses it, he may have to give up on the grand stage for good. Conditions are once again adverse as Memphis attempts to leave his mark. However his second half of the season is crystallising into the defining moment in his narrative.