PARIS (AP) — Just as his career was taking off again, Memphis Depay faces a struggle to be fit for next year’s European Championship after rupturing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee while playing for Lyon on Sunday.
The 25-year-old Dutchman did so much to get Lyon into the round of 16 of the Champions League. But instead of relishing the next opponent to potentially score against when the draw is held Monday, Depay will be bracing himself for months on the sidelines.
Depay and midfielder Jeff Reine-Adelaide could miss the rest of the season. In a bizarre coincidence, the teammates sustained the same kind of injury in the same half of Sunday’s 1-0 home loss to Rennes.
“Everything is going against us at the moment,“ exasperated Lyon goalkeeper Anthony Lopes said.
Depay was relishing his new leadership role at Lyon. He was recently named club captain following a frustrating last season, where he struggled in the shadow of fellow forward and homegrown Lyon star Nabil Fekir.
Fekir’s off-season departure to Real Betis, and a change of coach, seemed to galvanize Depay. He has been a player transformed into a fully invested leader and model teammate in terms of commitment.
Last week he intervened to defend teammate Marcelo after he was provoked by a section of home fans during a Champions League game against Leipzig, attempting to rip an offensive banner out of the intruding fan’s hands.
The way his teammates and coach Rudi Garcia backed him up confirmed his elevated status within the side. It was Depay’s late equalizer against the German club which sealed Lyon’s passage through to the last 16.
Depay was contributing strongly for the Netherlands, too, becoming a key player in a team which may challenge strongly at Euro 2020.
He topped the tournament’s qualifying charts with eight assists — putting him ahead of players such as England’s Raheem Sterling, France’s World Cup winner Antoine Griezmann, and Belgium stars Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne.
For Lyon, he scored a goal in all five of the Champions League group games he played in, his tally putting him ahead of European Cup winner Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema and Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo.
His goal against Leipzig made it 14 goals in 17 games this season for Lyon.
It was arguably one of the most important in a stop-start career which saw him burst onto the scene spectacularly with PSV Eindhoven back home, but then fail to live up to the hype at Manchester United in the famed No. 7 jersey.
He relaunched his career at Lyon, catching the eye early on with an astonishing lob from the halfway line and notching 53 goals in 133 games for the seven-time French champion, as well as 36 assists.
There have been spells of inconsistency, and even some petulance, but this promised to be a big season for Depay. His consistent form was reportedly paving the way for a move to a bigger club next summer.
“The injury to Memphis is a catastrophe because he’s our most decisive player,“ said Lyon’s sporting director and former standout midfielder Juninho. “It’s really worrying because he’s our best player, he’s become the leader on the pitch. I’m sad for him.“
According to Juninho, who played for Brazil at the 2006 World Cup, the leadership Depay has shown will be sorely missed also because it is lacking in other players.
“Our players are young and they struggle to take on responsibility,“ Juninho said. “They prefer to benefit from the work of others.“
With Depay out and Lyon languishing in eighth place ahead of the winter break, Juninho expects Lyon to be active during the January transfer window.
“We’re asking questions with regards to the market,“ he said. “But it’s not easy because we don’t have a magic recipe.“
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