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Memphis mistakes and magic sum up inconsistent Dutch ahead of England duel

| 29.03.2016

Holly Thackeray | March 26 , 2016

Clockwork Orange stuck on pause

As the Netherlands, clad in their famous bright orange shirts, strove to honour the memory of their most revered footballer in Johan Cruyff on Friday night against France, it was a revealing performance that encapsulated the reasons why they failed to qualify for the Euro 2016 finals.

Perhaps a dead rubber exhibition, serving most prominently as a tournament test and warm-up for ultimately triumphant Les Bleus, is not the kindest or most accurate bar to judge Danny Blind’s side by, particularly with the added pressure of celebrating Cruyff’s creation of the Total Football philosophy.

Watch Cryuff’s touching mid-match tribute:

Still, they once more seemed to lack the cohesiveness, danger, fluidity and individual sparkle that Dutch teams are so renowned for. Eager to impress at the Amsterdam Arena, soon to be renamed after Cruyff, there was again recurrent failures in defence which were not compensated for by the inadequacies in attack. Much huff and puff, but no clear direction.

The current Clockwork Orange crop (16/5 to beat England) are perhaps too painfully aware they have so far failed to live up to the tag of their predecessors, and are now once again thrown into the spotlight to highlight glaring weaknesses in comparison to the endless reels of Cruyff turns.

With the next stop Wembley to provide England with decent opposition to which they can flex their pre-France muscles, Blind’s boys have perhaps a freer opportunity to start afresh before they begin 2018 World Cup qualification in September.

Memphis malaise and magnificence

Perhaps no one player sums up the Dutch’s current toils than mercurial Manchester United man Memphis Depay and the wide forward again epitomised Clockwork Orange conundrums against France, with his dip of form but also flashes of brilliance evident.

Since bursting onto the international scene under the guidance of now Man Utd manager Louis van Gaal, and thrilling spectators in South America with his 2014 World Cup cameos, it is no secret that the PSV Eindhoven academy product has failed to live up to his hype and pricetag.

Regular Red Devils viewers will have noticed a sense of deja vu when watching Memphis’ frustrating forays in orange instead, in what was still far from a poor performance but equally as distanced from his devastatingly potent days with PSV.

Soccer - UEFA European Championship Qualifying - Group A - Kazakhstan v Netherlands - Astana Arena

Beginning the game on the bench, as he has spent much of the latter part of his first term at Old Trafford, Memphis took just two minutes to make an impact when called upon to help rescue his nation from a 2-0 deficit – a scoreline caused by a lack of leadership in defence.

The 22-year-old delivered a delicious ball in from a set-piece for former clubmate Luuk de Jong to nod/shoulder/hand into the net, beginning a brief fightback that promised the wounded Dutch are far from done as a European power.

Memphis then played a part in the Netherlands’ temporary equaliser, setting up fellow sub Ibrahim Afellay, also once dubbed the next big thing in Dutch football before his ill-fated move to Barcelona, to sweep home from a training ground style corner.

Soccer - International Friendly - Netherlands v Spain - Amsterdam Arena

Afellay’s resurgence at Stoke City is well overdue for a player of his potential and Memphis will not want to travel the same path. Though, despite his evident ability to change a game, the winger also displayed all the attributes that are dangerous and self-destructive for his own team.

Old Trafford troubles

In the moment when Memphis, deep in his own half, passed the ball straight back to France without seemingly looking, Man Utd fans will have remembered similar lapses of concentration in the crucial Chelsea and Liverpool matches, to name a few.

Ill discipline and a lack of defensive nous have plagued the young Dutchman since arriving at Old Trafford in summer, though Van Gaal’s exacting methods and being shunted to-and-fro from wide left, behind a forward or even up top has not helped matters.

Memphis’ case, of surrendering possession, venturing down blind alleys and being hustled off the ball far too easily for someone of his frame, are far from unique for a player under 23.

Britain Soccer FA Cup

With confidence dented as the flicks, tricks and pace to beat a man which were so ruthless in the Eredivisie, fail to come off at a higher level under greater pressure and tighter spaces, the Clockwork Orange attacking hope resembles any youngster catapulted beyond his comfort zone.

So, the problem lies more with the weight of expectation than Memphis himself, with many expecting Anthony Martial-like adaptation for both club and country after last season’s heroic haul. Both Man Utd and the Netherlands need a better team to build around Memphis’ talents, and another figure to be decisive, rather than heaping the burden prematurely on his shoulders.

Much has already been said about the axing of Robin van Persie, Rafael van der Vaart and Nigel de Jong – a generation that failed to deliver themselves, and the lack of quality in the interim available to help ease transition.

Soccer - UEFA European Championship Qualifying - Group A - Netherlands v Czech Republic - Amsterdam Arena

This is evidenced by the most recent squad roster, where aside from veterans Wesley Sneijder and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, the rest of Blind’s squad has just 22 international goals combined between the 10 remaining midfielders and forwards.

In addition, 13 of the recent call-ups are based with Eredivisie clubs, a league that has been a platform for the likes of great scorers such as Huntelaar that have carried to the bigger stage, but also made deceptive heroes of the likes of Alfonso Alves. While, only eight from this vintage arguably compete at the top level, in the Premier League and Bundesliga.

Future hopes

Still, there are a host of young players being currently blooded by boss Blind, who need the time and patience to get up to fully fledged international speed, which could mean the likes of Riechedly Bazoer, Davy Klaassen, Vincent Janssen, Anwar el Ghazi, Terence Kongolo, Jetro Willems et al are ready to from a much more polished spine by the time Russia rolls around, should they reach it.

Memphis should also be among those names, with others who will undoubtedly emerge before then, and his international outings have certainly shown more promise than those for United of late.

With changes at Old Trafford much mooted for this summer, there is every chance Memphis will get a second shot at transferring his talents to the highest level.

His dismantling of minnows Midtjylland and Bruges, with Danish defender Andre Romer stating: “I’ve never been so close to crying after a match as I was today”, show the talent is still within; he just needs the correct tutor. While, notably Memphis’ head has been higher while wearing orange.

Soccer - UEFA European Championship Qualifying - Group A - Netherlands v Czech Republic - Amsterdam Arena

“The national team boss gives me a lot of support. He has confidence in me. And that makes me really grateful towards him,” Memphis told media ahead of the international break.

Though, when pressed about support at Old Trafford he said: “Only sometimes. There are certain people within the club with whom I am talking about this.”

“The national coach knows my qualities really well and I know that I can do a massive job for my country in the qualification series towards the next World Cup. I’m delighted that I can come and show my skills.”

Much of the Netherlands’ hopes come September may just rely on Memphis stepping up. The next match is a chance to show up English critics, and Blind will undoubtedly be hoping Memphis has the magic and mentality to make the most of it.


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Holly Thackeray

Holly is a member of the content team, and can often be found on the sports desk writing about favourite topics Serie A and East Asian footballing nations. A recent darts convert, she is also a fully-fledged member of Barney's Army and a proud Leeds-born Manchester United fan.