There is an age-old saying in football: never go back. Manchester United have learned that lesson the hard way on multiple occasions in recent times.
Paul Pogba, having emerged as a talented youngster, left for nothing to join Juventus in 2012 only to return for a world-record fee four years later. The Serie A giants would laugh to the bank over the summer when they signed the Frenchman – on a free – for a second time.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure on Tuesday was even more painful for supporters. Unlike Pogba, the Portuguese superstar had cemented his status as a club legend during his first spell at Old Trafford.
Multiple Premier Leagues and a Champions League title placed Ronaldo alongside iconic number sevens like George Best, Bryan Robson and David Beckham. However, recent well-documented antics – resulting in his explosive exit – fractured a formerly-special bond.
It is even laborious to find an example that bucks the trend at other clubs. Some, like Fernando Torres at Atletico Madrid or Robin van Persie at Feyenoord, could claim to do so but, in truth, they simply joined former clubs at the backend of their careers and were never the same player.
That is why it is surprising to see Memphis Depay linked with a return to United. The Dutchman arrived in 2015 and endured 18 miserable months at Old Trafford.
Billed as the future of Dutch football, Depay – who reportedly cost £30million – bagged just seven goals in 53 appearances before being written off as another Ed Woodward flop.
Since then, the now 28-year-old has rebuilt his career on the continent with Lyon before joining Barcelona. Three appearances for the La Liga giants in 2022-23 have seen Depay become surplus to requirements – hence the United links.
Given club chiefs are tasked with replacing one of the greatest goalscorers of all time, it is alarming how Depay has only scored 20 league goals in two seasons throughout his career. Perhaps Erik ten Hag views his compatriot as a short-term fix, with the January transfer window notoriously hard to do business in.
But United run the risk of signing another striker/winger hybrid akin to Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial. Enticing a top-tier striker to Old Trafford is the crystal-clear requirement and, if there were any positives from Ronaldo’s exit, it is that their transfer priority was laid bare.
Barcelona appear happy to discard Depay in the same fashion as Jose Mourinho did almost five years ago. Should United re-sign their former flop, it would prove they have failed to learn their costly footballing lesson.