Players who have flourished in the iconic No. 7 jersey at Manchester United have had three attributes in common: attitude, ability and aura.
George Best, Eric Cantona and David Beckham had them all. Cristiano Ronaldo even more so.
The question now is whether Memphis Depay – a rap-singing, tattoo-covered, hip-swerving 21-year-old winger from the Netherlands – can join the list of greats at England’s biggest club.
After just five games for Manchester United, the signs are encouraging.
He couldn’t have more attitude. A tattoo on the inside of his lower lip reads ”succesvol” (successful in Dutch), another across the top of his chest says ”Dream Chaser.” He drives a camouflage car, and he has starred in a rap song with Dutch group Rotterdam Airlines.
Then there’s the line he came out with soon after signing for Manchester United for 31 million pounds (then $48 million) in June.
”I want to be a legend at some time,” he said, straight-faced.
His ability isn’t in question, either. Depay arrived in England with many labelling him as the ”Dutch Ronaldo” after scoring 21 goals for PSV Eindhoven on its way to the title in his home country. He carved out a reputation as a set-piece specialist, with some of his goals from free kicks already hits on YouTube, and was one of three nominees for the Best Young Player award at last year’s World Cup.
Depay has already drawn gasps inside Manchester United with two long-distance strikes against Bruges in a Champions League qualifying match last week, his first goals for the club. He also delivered a pinpoint cross for a third goal that game, of which even Beckham would have been proud.
”He’s an exciting player, and Manchester United have been lacking an exciting player last year and the year before,” Paddy Crerand, a European Cup winner with United in 1968, told The Associated Press at the club’s training complex on Friday.
”He’ll get people on the edge of their seats. I wish there were a few more actually.”
It remains to be seen, though, whether the flamboyant Depay will come through as the real deal.
An aura takes time to develop, especially in a division as laden with stars as English Premier League, and Depay has only shown glimpses of his talent in his other four matches for United. A malfunctioning attack has only scored two goals in three league games and Depay has been guilty of wasting chances. On occasion, he looked to be trying too hard to live up to expectations.
He is only two years into his international career with the Netherlands, too.
Still, United manager Louis van Gaal, who also was the coach of the Netherlands at the World Cup, is convinced the player has what it takes.
”He is, I think, one of the greatest talents of his age,” Van Gaal has said, rare praise from a coach who doesn’t usually single out players.
Depay started the season in a central position behind striker Wayne Rooney, but has been switched to the left wing – his preferred position – and has looked more comfortable.
Both goals against Bruges came when he cut in from the left and shot on his right foot. He did so again in the second leg against Belgian side on Wednesday, this time slipping in a pass for Rooney to put away.
Depay appears to have the determination to succeed. He is single-minded, leaving home at age 12 to sign for PSV from Sparta Rotterdam. Because his father left the family when Depay was just 4, he prefers to have ”Memphis” on the back of his jersey than his surname.
”I have been through little situations,” Depay said. ”That makes me strong.”
Once United’s attacking play becomes more fluent, fans could be treated to more examples of the goal celebration Depay attempted after scoring against Bruges – an imitation of a dance move by American rapper, Silento.
The No. 7 shirt at Old Trafford can be a burden – just ask Angel Di Maria and, before him, Antonio Valencia – but Depay’s start to his United career suggests he’ll handle it.
”It’s an iconic number,” Crerand said, ”but I don’t think at 21 you give a damn, do you?”