For a man whose signature goal celebration involves putting his fingers in his ears, Memphis Depay certainly does a lot of listening. Because while football has provided the substance of his life since growing up in Moordrecht on the outskirts of Rotterdam, music has provided the soundtrack.
Instinctively creative when dictating the rhythm on the pitch, the 27-year-old has transposed his natural talents to the studio. He’s reprising the times when, as a youngster, he would rap at family reunions while his relations accompanied him on a variety of instruments. He’d even throw out rhymes in the car when his mum drove him to games and recorded his first song with a friend when he was 14.
His Heavy Stepper EP hit the charts in November last year; it was his first multi-play release after a number of singles and musical projects, including a collaboration with Quincy Promes. “He’s so talented when it comes to making music,” says Depay of his international team-mate. “He produces, he records his own stuff – things I can’t do. I need a producer in the studio; he doesn’t.”
Depay is influenced by the beats emanating from across the Atlantic. “My inspiration comes from America,” he says. “They have the coolest ideas. I like Jay-Z; he’s everything a rapper wants to be.” A certain Canadian also gets a nod. “I think Drake is phenomenal. He’s broken all the records and his music is of a certain quality.”
It appears to be difficult for the Lyon captain to divorce his job from his off-field pursuits. For example, on a 2018 tune called 5 Milli he freestyles: “They be asking who’s my idol/Well I really got no idol/Cause the world Messi no Lionel.” And it’s not like he and Promes are the only internationals keen to express their fondness for melodies, particularly in the role of dressing-room DJ. “With the Dutch team it’s often Virgil [van Dijk]; everyone hands in their favourite track and he creates a mix with them.”
Not that Depay could tell you if he’s impressed with the centre-back’s efforts: “I like having my headphones on, to be honest.”
On reflection, it’s not that Depay can’t separate his artistic activities from his sporting ones: rather, he sees merit in merging them. As well as simply enjoying the pleasure that music can bring, Depay recognises the more significant role that it plays in his life. “Creativity is a good trait on and off the pitch,” he says. “In daily life you run into problems; nobody’s life is perfect. Sometimes you need help with them, other times you can use your brain, be creative and deal with them. I always try to think in terms of solutions.”
Intense, hard work was the only solution for Depay when, in a league game in 2019, he ruptured his ACL, ruining his club season and throwing his ambitions of representing his country at EURO 2020 into serious jeopardy. The pandemic eventually forced the tournament’s postponement, but his industry enabled him to return in time to help Lyon on their surprise run to the Champions League semi-finals last season. “I use my willpower to get through situations,” he says. “Everyone has experiences that leave scars, but you will always emerge stronger if your mindset is right.