Jesse Lingard seems to be an easy target for Manchester United fans at the moment. Half of the populace doesn’t seem to rate him, which for me, beggars belief. There’s a reason he just made his first two starts for England, even if that doesn’t seem quite as prestigious at the moment.
What surprises me is that most youth products are given more time by the fans, partly because we want to them to succeed. Why isn’t that the case with Lingard? He’s been at the club since he was a seven-year-old, he came through the ranks, worked hard and earned his place. He went on multiple pre-season tours and impressed but never seemed to get a chance. After a number of loans he finally got a shot under Louis van Gaal, sure enough, he had an awful injury which put him out for the season. He came through all this to become a first team player and score what should be a legendary Wembley goal, winning Manchester United their first FA Cup in 12 years.
If the romance of the story isn’t enough to convince reds then his ability as a player should be. He’s not going to be a star of this team, he’s not going to dominate the league, but he always performs for United. His movement is exquisite. He times his runs to perfection, always knowing when to drift inside or pull wide, when to get into the box and into goal-scoring positions. He’s a decent goal scorer too. As well as stunning goals in the FA Cup and Community Shield, he is well capable of scoring up to double figures in a full league campaign.
Perhaps the frustration with Lingard is that he’s so close to being on another level to what he is. He’s so industrious and clever in his build up play that if he was a little quicker, a slightly better passer, or a more clinical finisher, he could truly be top class. He does make mistakes, his decision-making isn’t quite perfect, but he adds so much to the team.
It’s hardly a coincidence that some of our best performances in recent years have come with Lingard on the side. This season, our dismantling of champions Leicester was largely down to Lingard’s inclusion instead of Wayne Rooney. His movement in behind and coming short is more than Rooney can dream of, and this allowed Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Juan Mata et al to thrive and take the headlines. Along with Pogba, Lingard was the best player on the pitch that day, and Jose has recognised it. He seems to be cementing his place in the line-up and even got an overdue call into the England squad, with Southgate putting him straight into the starting XI.
Look back at our 1-0 against City at the Etihad last season. Sure, Rashford stole the limelight with a brilliant winning goal, but Lingard was outstanding. He’s clearly a man for the big occasion, which was proved in Wembley last summer.
Perhaps the problem is that Lingard symbolises the modern footballer. Young, confident, rich, he’s heavily active on social media and a graduate of the ‘Dab University’. If that’s the factor that’s clouding the judgement of Reds, then they should be ashamed of themselves. At 23, Lingard can be a vital part of our squad for years to come. So go out there and dab away, because Jesse Lingard is here to stay.
Written by Gethin Morgan