Jesse Lingard was one of the few bright spots of an intriguing couple of years at Old Trafford through Louis van Gaal’s reign. With all the players that left, such as Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic at the back, Shinji Kagawa, Anderson and Nani in the middle of the pitch, and Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck up front, an awful lot of restructuring had to happen. A lot was spent on indifferent signings, but one thing that did unite the fans was the quantity of injection in youth from the Academy that had not been seen at United for a long time.
Marcus Rashford is the obvious highlight of them all, his pace, skills and finishing lit up the season finale, the robust introduction of Timothy Fosu-Mensah was great to watch, and the big BIG money spent on Anthony Martial seems actually good business with his consistent menace both on the wing and through the middle.
However, I do feel we forget that last season was also a breakthrough season for Jesse Lingard aswell. Due to Lingard being in and around the squad for a long time, and being on loan periods at Leicester City, Birmingham City, Derby County and Brighton and Hove Albion, it easy to forget that he only really made his mark the same season as Rashford and Martial has. He finally imposed himself early in the season scoring against West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford in November 2015. From here he played 25 league games, popping up with four goals and one assist, and thankfully, that wonderful strike in the FA Cup final that finally brought us some silver wear after Sir Alex’s retirement. There were also articles about him and quotes from him that made it seem like he was the elder statesman, such as this one after the derby at the Etihad:
“The manager was buzzing. But obviously we know it is not like it is the last game of the season, we have to kick on now and focus on beating Everton. It is a massive win, the lads put a lot of effort in, we pressed really well and kept the ball really well. To get the early goal was massive for us.
“It is definitely a massive boost. But we have got to take it game by game still. We have game plans for set teams and when we stick to them we usually win. Everyone will be relaxed when they come back and then we can focus on Everton. It is interesting now [the race for fourth] but we have to take it game by game, get our recovery, get our rest and go again.”
I feel due to this some of the fans forget that he too is still a young player who has had a very good season, he was industrious however due to the new regime and players linked to the club already, I wonder what sort of future he has at the club, and will he be favoured, or will he be in and around the squad again?
The normal theory about Jose Mourinho and his team’s point to buying experienced players and loaning out the youth, preferring tried and trusted and those already on the big stage to beef up his teams and provide success quickly. The way Martial and Rashford performed, it’s easier to presume they’ll be safe next season, but Lingard’s position worries me. He’s a decent player of that there is no doubt. He has pace, he’s got leadership qualities for someone young, and doesn’t half put a shift in. He has an eye for a goal too. However, the imminent Henrikh Mkhitaryan transfer puts his position in doubt for me as a first team starter.
When I think of Mourinho’s first experience at Chelsea, the Joe Cole conundrum always comes into my mind. He was once the most talented young English player of his generation. Unfortunately for him, he was maybe born five years too early for what his skills could deliver. He could take people on at will, spot a pass, and more tricks up his sleeve than any other English player at the time. He was born for the Andres Iniesta or David Silva position that is so apparent in today’s game, however, Mourinho made him play on the left and took away his creativity at the time. The Chelsea system made him more robot than a playmaker in order for him to fit in the team, where previously he would have been capable of ‘doing a Cruyff turn in a phone box’. Then he drifted into the squad as he couldn’t get his natural game going, and there were others better coming in from the left like he was told to do. After this, he went stale, picked up some injuries, bounced around from Liverpool to Lille and Aston Villa, never really shining again.
I fear that something similar may happen to Jesse Lingard. If (or when) the main signings go through, that’ll leave the forward line possibly with Zlatan Ibrahimovic up top, with Rashford and Martial either side, with Mkhitaryan or Wayne Rooney pulling the strings. Behind that top four, there will either be one of Michael Carrick or Bastian Schweinsteiger, then either Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini and Morgan Schneiderlin doing the running. Lingard seems to flourish either coming in from the right, or playing as a 10 behind the front man, but due to the performances of Rashford and Martial, the influence of Rooney and the incoming Ibrahimovic and Mkhitaryan, I can’t see where he will fit in on a regular basis. All this, and I haven’t even mentioned Juan Mata.
I could be, and hope, I’m completely wrong! I hope with rotation, Lingard does get a lot of games, keeps his natural industry and menace and goes from strength to strength in the red shirt. He signed an extension in 2015 which shows others in the club have seen his potential, and I hope not just protecting him for a transfer fee, and there are reports that he has come in early to pre-season training to show how serious he is about the season ahead. This type of hard work never goes amiss under Mourinho. However, I also hope that if he doesn’t get game time, he will be allowed to leave either on loan or a permanently and does not end up like Joe Cole.