LONDON • Memphis Depay's steady slump in fortunes continued yesterday when he was axed from the Netherlands squad for this week's friendly matches against Wales and Germany.
Before an injury to Anwar El Ghazi of Ajax offered him a route back, he had been dropped by Danny Blind, the Netherlands coach, with a blunt assessment of his contribution. "In football, you must function in a team," Blind said.
"He doesn't always do that. That's something he has to learn."
At Manchester United, plenty of people would have been nodding in agreement.
Depay, who cost United a projected £31.6 million (S$68 million) from PSV Eindhoven, made a flying start to his Old Trafford career with two goals in his third appearance, in the Champions League match at home to Club Bruges.
But, in recent weeks, he has been an unused substitute against Everton, Manchester City and West Bromwich Albion, since being hauled off at half-time of a 3-0 defeat by Arsenal last month.
Dressing rooms form their judgments quickly and frustration with Depay has been felt. Similarities have been drawn with Nani, the Portugal winger whose errant decision-making on the field often infuriated team-mates.
Inconsistency in young players is a given but Depay is regularly told that he needs to learn to release the ball more quickly and the penny has yet to show signs of dropping.
"There's a player there, unquestionably, but the same mistakes are repeating themselves too often," one source said.
"The Nani analogy has merit."
Depay's antics off the field have done him few favours: The clothes, the accessories (wearing sunglasses indoors, false gold teeth), the nights out.
Fans would gladly settle for fewer pictures of his dog, a Chow Chow named Simba, and more sightings of him terrorising defences.
They are minor details but things that - fairly or unfairly - serve to create the wrong impression and give ammunition to his detractors, especially when Anthony Martial, United's other young arrival, is barely seen or heard apart from on the pitch.
Blind's misgivings about Depay came as no surprise to those at Old Trafford. No player has been the source of such frequent frustration this season and Depay has been the subject of much vexed conversation among United's management team, who are as eager to make a point to the 21-year-old as they are to protect him.
Depay has been told to ignore the steady flow of prominent figures in Dutch football lining up to take potshots at his attitude and listen instead to those charged directly with guiding his career.
Yet, as some of his previous coaches attest, ensuring a consistent, constructive message registers is the challenge.
Ryan Giggs has spoken to the player but Louis van Gaal's recent admission that it is "the player who is responsible for his own deeds" and that "you have to give respect to your team philosophy" was marked.
Pierre van Hooijdonk, a former Netherlands forward, said: "The stats of Memphis do not weigh up against his attitude off the pitch."
There is good reason that he has lost his place to Jesse Lingard, an academy graduate. Having started 12 of United's opening 13 matches, Depay has played for 97 minutes in the seven games since being substituted at the Emirates. One goal, no assist and four chances created in the Premier League are not persuasive statistics.
But Juan Mata is convinced Depay will come good.
"He'll do well - he's young and he's just adapting to the English game," the United midfielder said.
"He has a lot of qualities - he's quick, capable of one-on-ones and has a powerful shot."
THE TIMES, LONDON
FIVE YET TO JUSTIFY THEIR SUMMER FEE
Club: Torino to Manchester United
Fee: £12.7 million (S$27.3 million)
Premier League: 11 games (773 minutes played)
Italy's first-choice right-back has defended inconsistently and has added little to the attack. Wingers Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia have been picked ahead of him recently.
Club: Barcelona to Chelsea
Fee: £21 million
Premier League: 8 games (603min played)
The Spain winger impressed on his debut against West Bromwich Albion but otherwise, like most of his team-mates, he has been below par since his signing.
Club: Napoli to Leicester City
Fee: £4.9 million
Premier League: 3 games (119min played)
The Swiss international was taken off at half-time at Stoke with Leicester 0-2 down and has been an unused substitute in their subsequent six league games.
Club: Nantes to Aston Villa
Fee: £8 million
Premier League: 6 games (367min played)
The attacking midfielder, one of Villa's many French-speaking signings, has made little impact. He is thought to have been unwanted by former manager Tim Sherwood.
Club: Hull City to West Bromwich
Fee: £8 million
Premier League: 3 games (218min played)
West Brom have conceded eight goals in the 2 1/2 league games with the Wales defender on the pitch, and the same number in their other 9 1/2 league matches.
THE TIMES, LONDON