Success spoils you. For fans of big clubs, this entitlement creeps in over time. You get used to winning games, claiming trophies most seasons, and it’s hard not to grumble when things don’t go exactly according to plan. For some, supporters that expectation of constant excellence starts to manifest itself as impatience. Dull 1-0 wins by Real Madrid are whistled, winning “only” the league at Bayern Munich is seen as a failure, and a talented young attacker who hasn’t fulfilled his potential three months into his Manchester United career is written off as a dud.
Memphis Depay arrived at Manchester United from PSV Eindhoven with a big reputation. He was PSV’s top scorer in the previous season, and Louis van Gaal (never a man to be accused of heavy-handed praise) called him the best talent of his age on the planet. After Ángel di María escaped to PSG, Memphis was assigned United’s famed no. 7 shirt. Needless to say, the expectations were high.
But outside of a few early encouraging moments, Memphis has been unquestionably rubbish. That may seem like a harsh assessment, but when judging young players, pretending that they’re better than they are does them no favors. In the last several weeks, he’s been dropped by the Netherlands (a team which isn’t even all that good), dropped by United (a team which isn’t even all that good), and nothing that he tries on the pitch seems to come off. His body language on the field betrays a loss of confidence, and the ensuing discouragement and frustration sometimes leads to a diminished workrate – a cardinal sin in the eyes of many fans. You’re allowed to be subpar every now and then, and you’re allowed to be lazy, but you can never, ever be both. That’s when the groans and jeers come out.
But here’s the thing: Memphis Depay is 21 years old. Yes, he’s been crap, but he’s also adjusting to a new club, league and country. He’s in a new job where he’s expected to do more, without having every play go through him like it did in his previous team. He’s also 21 years old! Few among us would rush to be judged based on what we did in our late teens and early 20s, nevermind if we were under a similar spotlight. It’s clear that the talent is there. It just needs time.
United supporters should know this as well as anyone. The Reds faithful take pride in their club’s tradition of developing stars, but sometimes the excitement over the finished product blurs the memory of the journey there. Chris Smalling has been the best defender in the league this season, by some margin. But if you were to ask United fans what they thought should have been done with him 12 months ago — after he picked up a stupid red card in a Manchester derby — most wouldn’t have been bothered if he was put on a rocket to the moon. Smalling arrived at United with all the tools to be a great defender but had a very uneven first few years under Sir Alex Ferguson and David Moyes. Louis van Gaal has played him consistently in his best position, and after some growing pains, Smalling is now bordering on world class form.
Patience. The best coaches and managers know this about developing talent; sometimes you need the carrot, other times you need the stick. Some personalities respond better to a strong challenge or a public dressing down, others to an arm around the shoulder and an encouraging word. Supporters play little role in the development of young players at the clubs they follow, but patience is needed as much in the terraces as it is on the training ground.
If fans believe in a player’s ability and believe that ability is worth waiting to see flourish, then they have to take the occasional hiccup in stride. Maybe that hiccup lasts a few months, or maybe it turns into a rocky few years. Patience shouldn’t be bottomless; injuries, lack of application, and various other factors can all see a player fail to live up to his talent. But the special ones are worth it.
At the end of the season almost a decade ago, fans of an elite club were picking over the bones of yet another trophyless season. Their club’s gifted young attacker had been frustratingly inconsistent, and many were wondering if he was worth all the hassle. The talent was there, but the end product was not. He had the ego of of a superstar, but some supporters were getting tired of waiting for his game to catch up. He was no longer a teenager, and though the manager had allowed him to play through his struggles, many were calling for him to be replaced with a more refined player. For some United fans, Cristiano Ronaldo in the summer of 2006 was nothing more than an over-indulged one-trick pony, who had enough chances to prove his value and had failed to deliver. I think we all know how that one turned out.
25+ Channels With Sports & News
- Starting price: $33/mo. for fubo Latino Package
- Watch Premier League, Liga MX, MLS & World Cup
- Includes ESPN, FOX, Univision, TUDN and more
Favorite Leagues At The Best Price
- Starting price: $7.99/mo. for Live TV Package
- Watch Argentine league, Brasileirāo and Copa Libertadores
- Includes beIN SPORTS, GolTV, TyC Sports and more
Many Sports & ESPN Originals
- Price: $6.99/mo. (or get ESPN+, Hulu & Disney+ for $13.99/mo.)
- Features LaLiga, Bundesliga, MLS, Copa del Rey & more
- Also includes daily ESPN FC news & highlights show
Live TV, Soccer & Originals
- Starting price: $4.99/mo.
- Features Champions League, Serie A, Europa League & more
- Includes CBS, Star Trek & CBS Sports HQ
175 Premier League Games & PL TV
- Starting price: $4.99/mo. for Peacock Premium
- Watch 175 exclusive EPL games per season
- Includes Premier League TV channel plus movies, TV shows & more
Get All 3 And Save 30%
- $13.99/mo. for ESPN+, Disney+ & Hulu
- Includes Bundesliga, LaLiga, NHL & the home to UFC
- Features Marvel, Star Wars + shows & movies for your entire family