As a testing debut season in England draws to a close, Memphis Depay has admitted he has "not yet" lived up to his £25m price tag at Old Trafford. We caught up with Manchester United's number 7 in London, at the launch of the latest evolution of Under Armour's Rule Yourself campaign.
It's hardly a secret that it's been a difficult start to life at United for Dutch starlet Memphis Depay, and the 22-year-old former PSV man was refreshingly up-front about his own shortcomings when asked if he felt he had lived up to lofty expectations at Old Trafford this season:
No. Not yet. I know that. I will continue to fight for it,
I have a lot of expectations on myself. That's important. The club is busy and I am busy to improve it.
I don't want to put a date on it or say when [I will meet expectations] but it will come. Confidence will help and experience. You learn from your mistakes.
I have really had to change my game because in the Eredivisie I could do what I wanted as I had time on the ball, I played on feelings. Here [in the Premier League] there is direct pressure so it's hard.
This has affected my game a little bit - everyone can see I'm not scoring every game like I used to but I can feel it getting better and, as I get to know the league more, I feel better and my confidence is growing again.
'Finding confidence' is a recurring theme throughout the evening, and numerous critics have pinpointed Luke Shaw's gruesome leg-break in September - at Memphis' former club, no less - as the fixture which saw the Dutch trickster's promising early-season form begin to wane.
The pair famously exhibited one of the Premier League's most coveted bromances prior to Shaw's injury - a friendship with translated to an electric United left wing. The Dutch international hinted at the effect his good pal's subsequent absence has had, both on United's season and his own:
It depends, really. For example, the left side of the pitch - you have to work together. So when Luke got injured you have a new [left back] coming in. And then he has to do the job. And you have to communicate defensively and in offence.
It's all about communication with each other. If you have a real connection with each other, of course it's easier to work with each other.
Away from United's injury-plagued squad and managerial tightrope, much of the fans' vitriol has been diverted towards Depay's legendary left-wing predecessor this season - if only, perhaps, via the sheer boredom of constantly berating boss Louis van Gaal.
But the 22-year-old is quick to point out the value of Van Gaal's second-in-command within United's coaching setup:
Ryan Giggs is a legend. He talks a lot with me,
He gives me advice. He experienced everything already so he can help me with those kind of things. I don't want to go into details but he works a lot with me.
As well as Giggs, the Dutchman also reserved some special praise for his captain:
Wayne Rooney gives me a lot of things to think about. They really inspire me because that's two legends that talk with you and give you advice.
They inspire me. I feel that I'm doing something with it.
Depay scored 22 goals in 30 Eredivisie games last season, propelling Philip Cocu's PSV to their first league title since 2008. He has since netted just twice in his first 20 appearances for United, though both the club and his sponsors Under Armour remain confident he can emerge as one of the game's most recognisable talents, not least due to his natural athleticism.
Likened physically to Cristiano Ronaldo on his Old Trafford arrival last summer, Depay discussed in depth the challenges of Premier League, and how simply developing more muscular mass to adapt to the rigours of a more physical brand of football can be a double-edged sword:
I have to be careful, because if I put weight on, I'll grow too fast. My body is growing fast, so I don't need too many hours in the gym putting weight on. It's more about being flexible and being quick on my feet. But not too much weight on my shoulders, because I'm growing fast, and I'm getting slower if I do that.
[Training] really depends on the week because, this week we have three games. So the work we put in in training is low-key because we have to recover. I played [away at Shrewsbury] and we had recovery training today. Tomorrow is low key training and then Thursday, we have a game.
If you have a free week with just one game you can put the work in, and you can train harder. When it's possible you will do it, and the physical trainers and the personal trainers - they make the script.
I prefer back-to-back games. I would play a game every day if I could.
He was quick to point out, however, that "even The Rock takes a rest day."
With Wayne Rooney and Will Keane now set for prolonged sideline spells, Depay will likely be called upon for back-to-back games with Louis van Gaal's men playing host to both Midtjylland and Arsenal in the coming days.
What's clear from his speaking with media yesterday is that he's aware of the need to gradually rebuild his own confidence on the pitch. He's aware, too, that this can only be achieved through blind dedication to his craft.
It's this awareness and Depay's understated work ethic which, according to senior executives at Under Armour, make him a raw talent worth backing - the perceived footballing embodiment of a global sports performance brand which currently boasts an asset list containing Anthony Joshua, Michael Phelps, Tom Brady, Canelo Alvarez, Steph Curry and Jordan Spieth amongst others.
No pressure, then.
Depay explains that he's still on the training pitch after-hours on a daily basis, 'knuckleballing' free-kick after free-kick, having scored seven for PSV last term but failing to get off the mark so far this season. He doesn't seem panicked, but instead both patient and expectant. Football is a game, he says, where "an entire game, year and career can change in a split second."
He understands the criticism he has received this season, explaining that "fans can do what they want," but it won't dissuade him from quietly developing as a player. It's a sentiment echoed by those backing him to establish himself as an elite-level athlete.
We truly believe it’s what athletes do in the dark, when no one is watching, that ultimately puts them in the spotlight they deserve,
says Adrienne Lofton, Vice President of Global Brand Marketing at Under Armour.
This is why, according to Lofton, Memphis was the perfect footballer to choose for the next level of Under Armour's Rule Yourself campaign. In career terms, he's in the dark. A 22-year-old athlete with the world at his feet, striving to break out.
On Thursday night, Manchester United fans will hope he can begin to draw the Old Trafford spotlight upon himself once more.