On his back, a huge tattoo of a lion seems to be roaring. In his heart, the fire is burning and he is impossible to be stopped at times when everything falls into place. Memphis Depay is truly a unique character, a player with so much talent, but he has become somewhat of a maverick, sometimes even a misunderstood stalwart.
But he has written history everywhere he went, with the goal scored against the United States of America, in Netherlands’ 3-1 win in the Round of 16 at Qatar 2022 being his 43rd in the national team in only 85 matches played. Aged 28 years old, Memphis – we’ll see later why he prefers this name – is the second all-time top scorer for the Netherlands, a team that has written history time and time again, only seven goals behind the leader, Robin van Persie.
In fact, Memphis has scored 0.51 goals per game whenever he took the pitch for the Dutch side, providing an excellent return every time, despite being slated not up to the task time and time again. And surely, his story is one that could have turned out totally different.
Dubbed an enigma by many, Memphis did not have an easy childhood. Born to a Ghanian father, Dennis, and a Dutch mother, Cora Schensema, the Dutch striker had to endure the collapse of the relationship between his parents when he was only five years old. Back then, all he could think of was football.
“One day you will be able to watch me play football on TV, too!,” said the kid to his grandfather. But in his psyche, Memphis was definitely hurt in the absence of his father and seeing his mother having to make do with a job and raising a kid.
Without a father figure in his life, Memphis could have easily turned to a life of crime, as he was a kid without control, a troublemaker in school. Instead, he found football to bring the calm he needed, taking out the energy with long sprints on the pitch.
It was his grandfather, Kees, a football afficionado, who took him to a football club when Memphis was only seven years old. As soon as he liked the sport, he was unstoppable, scoring at ease. Local club VV Moordrecht had a diamond on their hands.
When Depay turned 12, a number of clubs scouted him, but his grandfather, despite being a huge Ajax Amsterdam fan, decided it was better to send Memphis to PSV Eindhoven, a club known for really taking care of the person, not the player.
With the right kind of support, Depay’s behaviour improved and his star only grew higher. That was only until 2009, when Kees, the father figure Memphis always craved, died suddenly. The man to who he had promised he would one day play for Feyenoord would never see him make his professional debut for PSV or represent the national team.
From PSV, Memphis went to Manchester United, in a $35 million swap in 2015. He never settled in the Premier League and went to Olympique Lyon and then Barcelona. But he was always a player who needed everything around him to fall in the right place to deliver the best performances.
And it all boiled down to his difficult childhood.
“Those things are a part of my life. It is not a part of football. It is a different thing. I have a life next to football. I have been through little situations. That makes me strong. I enjoy my tattoos, as you can see. I am the person I am. Everybody has to respect that,” said Memphis in an interview for BBC.
The striker who wrote history for the Netherlands and even scored at Qatar 2022 in the Round of 16 against the USA side in the Dutch win, 3-1, always like to go by Memphis, having his surname instead of his name on the shirt.
“I will never forgive him. Do not call me Depay, call me Memphis. No, I don’t want to explain exactly what happened at home because I don’t want to make people feel ashamed. And that’s how it will remain because I’ve already moved on,” said the Dutch striker.
Yet he never forgot his mum, who gave everything to him and was always present irrespective of how hard life was. Recently, he surprised her with a big present, a new Mercedes, which was right in front of their house. While the present might have been materialistic in essence, Memphis truly meant the world.
“I love you for that mommy!! I hope I made you proud,” said Memphis in his story.
Just before the start of Qatar 2022, Memphis stated that he forgave his father, Dennis, for what he did.
“I didn’t come that far to talk about it but now we cool. You know I’m older. At the age 22, I think 23, I forgave him. He is not a bad guy, he just does not take his responsibilities. He knows that. I was for a very long time angry because obviously you get those questions a lot when you play football. People even make jokes about it. Fans of other teams, players but at the end of the day I know how to become a good dad when I become one someday, hopefully,” said the Dutch striker.
Ultimately, it all boils down to the heart. And like the lion on his back, Memphis knows he is one of the best in the jungle of football.