Biographer describes Barcelona player Memphis Depay as a rebel

Simon Zwartkruis, the writer of Memphis Depay’s official biography, describes the footballer as a rebel with a lot of self confidence, What else did he say?

Memphis Depay

‘Heart of a Lion’ was published in 2019, how did the idea come up?

In the first years of his career, Memphis took the decision to share his personal story, his life and his vision of the world, to inspire youths who grew up in similar difficult circumstances to him. For him the main reason was to show there is always light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s important to follow your dreams and show your talent, independent of what others think.

In 2018 he asked me if I’d like to write the book with him. He started talking about his childhood and I quickly saw it was going to be a really interesting story. So that’s where it started.

A strong personality, a rebel, with a lot of self confidence. Sometimes eccentric but also charitable and close to those he loves. Does the current Memphis fit into that?

Yes, quite a lot. He has a lot of sides, which make him a really special person. Many people don’t understand how you can live a life of luxury and at the same time worry so much about the deaf-mute kids in Ghana (his foundation helps children there, where his father was from). For him there is no doubt, the two can be compatible.

Memphis had a tough youth. His father left when he was three and years later his relationship with his stepfather and stepsiblings was not easy either. How much did that influence his personality?

Knowing his infancy and adolescence is fundamental to understand his personality. He suffered a lot of violence, physical and verbal, above all after his mother’s second marriage, when he moved house with his new family. In that period Memphis became an aggressive person, with others and himself. In school many times he was sitting at his desk, hitting the table after class because he did not want to go home. He began to lose trust in people and felt alone. His Disney tattoos from that era on his arms are a reminder of that dark era for him, he used to say his only friends ere the cartoon characters from Disney. And, of course, his mother, the most important person in his life. She became his paternal figure too. His grandfather died when Memphis was 15 and that was a tough blow for him. 

But in recent years, he’s been knocking down the emotional wall that surrounds him. He’s done it bit by bit. He’s started trusting people and has found God and the Bible again. Now he’s at peace with himself. The last line of his book is important. “Finally I am proud of myself.”

How would you explain to a fan who doesn’t know much about Memphis Depay, who he is as a player and a person?

His personality reflects the way he plays football. He trusts himself and is very ambitious. He likes to put on a show and for people to enjoy watching the game. That’s why he takes risks in the play. A good example was his first goal after the bad knee injury he had. Most players go slower and safer after so long out, but when Lyon were given a penalty against Juventus, Memphis took the ball with no doubts and scored a Panenka. With Memphis you can expect the unexpected. When he confirmed his transfer to Barca, I sent him that famous Johan Cruyff phrase. “Salid y disfrutad” (go out and enjoy it). I think that message fits him perfectly.

He did not succeed at Man United but was an idol for Lyon fans. Do you think he’ll adapt to Barca and the city? 

I think his playing style will fit Barca’s well. A similarity with Barca and Dutch players is that they want to win with a certain style, playing well and always attacking him. The connection with Ronald Koeman is a plus for him. In the Dutch national team Koeman showed he knew how to get Memphis’s qualities to the fore. He gave him the centre forward role and Memphis responded with goals, assists, and good play. That change was quickly reflected at Lyon.

On his United era, Memphis was honest in the book and admitted his failure. He doesn’t blame anyone, just himself. He was not prepared for a club of that size like United at that moment of his life. At Lyon he grew as a player and as a person, to the point he became the top scoring captain of the team. So he’s at a great moment of his career to play at the top level at a club like Barcelona. 

I think he will adapt well to the mentality of people at Barca and Catalonia, the history and the present shows that Catalans have the courage to fight for what they want to be. We’ve not spoken about that but I imagine that spirit will be an inspiration for him.

It seems Memphis has a love-hate relationship with Dutch fans. Many appreciate his talent but others don’t forgive his rebel attitude, his ‘bad boy’ postures. 

That’s how it is. In recent years things have improved after his performances with the national team have too. The book had an influence and the fact that now he’s more open to give interviews. Now people speak more of his performance than his looks or behaviour off the pitch. However after the Netherlands were knocked out of the Euros he was criticised again heavily. When he was young he felt bad about the criticism but with time he’s taking it better, the good and the bad. He said it in the book. “Whether the criticism is sweet or bitter, it’s better not to try it because you will feel bad.”

As well as playing, Memphis has got into music and fashion. He’s made songs and has his own clothing line. Can they distract him from football or do they help him disconnect and grow?

That music can distract him from football is something that he’s heard since he was at PSV’s youth team and started to make songs. For him, it’s the opposite. To speak and think about football 24 hours a day, seven days a week, doesn’t make him happy. In his free time he wants to get involved with other things. It gives him extra energy and has a positive effect on his football. Koeman knows it. He wouldn’t be willing to work with a player who doesn’t know when the moment is to focus on football and when he can disconnect with other things.

When a forward joins Barca, the question is inevitable. Will he connect well with Messi?

Like everyone, Memphis won’t take long to notice the impact and status of Messi at Barcelona. With Netherlands and Lyon, Memphis had a lot of pitch ahead of him, space to generate and create. At Barca he will be one of those who have to stretch the pitch, so Messi has space to work in and connect with Memphis in attack. With the national team he had a quick connection with Frenkie de Jong. That can happen, technical players can click well. I’m sure Koeman has thought about Memphis’s qualities and Messi’s, and they can work together for the team.

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