Jesse Lingard has always split opinions amongst fans. Since making his debut. Since making his debut in 2014, Lingard, to perhaps no fault I’ve his own has become a symbol of United’s shortcomings post-Ferguson. From the celebrations to his swag on and off the pitch, some like it, some don’t. I for one am a big fan.
Lingard’s role has changed on a number of occasions as fans have looked in anticipation to see if the late bloomer in terms of development could find establish himself as a first-team star. The midfielder’s peak time in a United shirt coincided wit’s the arrival of Jose Mourinho. The three-time Premier League champion seemed to take a keen liking to the vibrant 23-year-old at the time. Lingard had just come off the back of his infamous FA Cup winner vs Crystal Palace, so had already written himself into the club’s folklore.Embed from Getty Images
The season all fans will remember in relation to Lingard was his 17/18 purple patch where the Englishman’s 13 goals in all competitions and eight in the League helped to earn Mourinho his self-proclaimed biggest managerial achievement. Lingard had a strong relationship with Mourinho so it was appropriate that Lingard was the man to score despite of a humiliating defeat at Anfield which saw the Portuguese manager sacked within a few hours in the following season.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over and having worked with the Norwegian in the reserves side, it seemed Lingard’s form and importance would maintain. All started well, with United’s number 14 scoring a brace in Solskjaer’s first game in a 5-1 drumming of the Norwegians former employers.Embed from Getty Images
Lingard’s second vs Cardiff, which was soon followed by a Russ-inspired gun lean celebration would be his last goal in the league for 19 months before he’d come off the bench to find the net against Leicester City to help secure United’s third-place finish.
In between that, there were obviously some mitigating circumstances, the pandemic put Football on pause for a number of months and Lingard later revealed he had been suffering from personal mental struggles due to his family situation at the time. What was also very evident was that Lingard wasn’t himself. As much as Solskjaer loved Lingard, he just couldn’t get the best out of the Englishman.
The following season, after Lingard had admitted his troubles to the world as well as his manager, we all thought Lingard may slowly begin to play a role in United’s team. It didn’t come to pass.
Most of Lingard’s omission from squads and starting elevens could be pinned down to the form of Bruno Fernandes and the fact that United’s latest midfield acquisition Donny van de Beek was also struggling for game time. So in the January of 2021, when former manager David Moyes offered Lingard the chance to play regularly it was a no-brainer.
To say Lingard hit the ground running is an understatement. His brace at Villa park on his West Ham debut set the precedent for his loan spell. He looked electric, sharp but most importantly he was happy. All of which he sowed in the east of London was down to the fact he was getting consistent football. Lingard very quickly eclipsed his purple patch of 17/18 as by the time he left West Ham he had registered 9 goals and 5 assists. From the time he put pen to paper of his loan contract, only Harry Kane had contributed to more goals in England.Embed from Getty Images
Lingard was a different animal, but he wasn’t afraid to suggest that he was ready and fit to compete for United in the months leading to his loan in January. The difference though was he had not only the trust of Moyes but the opportunity to play. There’s no doubt that Lingard found side to himself where he was the main man for the Hammers, the man they relied on. At United l, he just wasn’t that guy, and maybe that worked to his detriment.
Lingard’s West Ham form saw him called up to the March internationals. Before his spell at the London Stadium, he wouldn’t have been in the thinking of the England manager Gareth Southgate, but in March he was called up and started in the first friendly vs San Marino. His first cap since September 2019 saw him get an assist.
Unfortunately, when the 28 man squad for the European championships was finalised, Lingard wasn’t included. But he was part of the initial, provisional 33. He may not have made the Euros, but the fact that he was in the conversation as a probable vital member of the squad speaks volumes of his achievements at West Ham.Embed from Getty Images
Fast-forward to August 2021. Lingard is back in Solskjaer’s squad, the indication being he’s ready and willing to fight to be a part of Solskjaer’s squad. It simply can’t be what’s best for him.
From a club perspective, the rhetoric is that United’s ambition has now increased and the league is the challenge for Solskjaer’s men. Surely a player that was deemed not useful last season is suddenly someone who can contribute to heightened aspirations.
For Lingard, he played his best football at West Ham, he was loved, trusted, and was given the freedom to play his game. His performances took him into touching distance of a Euros call-up. Lingard staying at United to “be part of the squad” at 28 seems like a couple of steps back in his career.
For Lingard’s career alone, it is best for him to move on.