Jesse Lingard has a history of proving people wrong. After falling out of favour again at Manchester United, he has found a new home at West Ham United and has been reinstated in the England squad after a two-year absence.
There are plenty of other reasons to think he won’t be in Gareth Southgate’s squad for this summer’s European Championship, but at the time there were also questions about whether he could succeed at United or even become a professional footballer. There were questions about whether he was good enough to start for England at the last World Cup and whether he could rejuvenate at West Ham. Those who know him best, a small circle of mostly family members, know not to bet against him.
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The Englishman, reflecting back on World Cup matches against San Marino, Albania and Poland, rewards Lingard’s desire as much as anything he has done on the pitch. Since being loaned to West Ham in January, he has scored four goals in six games and was nominated for the Premier League Player of the Month title in February.
Being at the London Stadium is testament to his own determination to prove himself again and again. During meetings with Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Lingard was told he was still needed at Old Trafford, but after three appearances in September-January, the midfielder made it clear he wanted out. First Solskjar had to be convinced, then Vice President Ed Woodward, and finally owner Joel Glaser. The easy way out would have been to stay for weeks of internal negotiations and patiently wait for the occasional FA Cup match, but the easy way out would have been as a young player to listen to the coaches suggesting he was too small and insignificant to make it.
West Ham were one of eight Premier League clubs to show interest in a loan move during the January transfer window, including Spain, Italy, Portugal and France. Southgate and his assistant Steve Holland were so keen to get Lingard back in the England squad that they personally called the manager to deliver a glowing testimonial. David Moyes was one of them, although he already knew enough after he included Lingard in his squad as a 20-year-old for United’s 2013 pre-season tour.
Having barely played for ManUnited at the start of the season, Jesse Lingard exploded after going on loan to West Ham in January. Photo: Sean Botterill/Getty Images
Moyes’ instincts were right and in 2021 Lingard helped West Ham stay within reach of the top four with 10 games to go. Southgate and Holland also got what they wanted: Lingard is back playing regular football and is back in the national team.
There is always the perception that Lingard is more interested in the attributes that come with being a footballer than being a footballer, but this is often a judgement on the side of his personality that he represents through social media rather than anything substantive. He was a regular in United’s first team under Jose Mourinho, one of the most demanding managers in the world. During the 2018 US tour, Lingard was on holiday in Miami after the World Cup when Mourinho asked him to take a break and play in a friendly against Real Madrid. Lingard spent the day of the match visiting sportswear stores looking for a pair of shoes, before the club’s medical staff convinced Mourinho it was not a good idea.
The turbulence in his personal life following England’s success in Russia affected his form, as did harsh criticism from some of the United fans who saw him as an easy target. Lingard can appear very confident on Instagram, but he can also be shy and reserved. The abuse, especially on social media, became so intense that she sometimes stopped having lunch with her friends and family. According to those close to him, the best thing about his move to West Ham is that he is smiling again.
Lingard has worked hard, on and off the pitch, to regain his best form. He took his personal trainer on holiday to Mykonos this summer in the hope of being employable this season, but although he passed pre-season fitness tests at United with flying colours, his options in the Carabao Cup were limited. He was already disappointed at Old Trafford, especially after the defeat in the Europa League semi-final against Sevilla, where he was on the bench when Solskjaer’s side needed a goal in the last 12 minutes to go into extra time.
Lingard’s influence at West Ham is so great that Moyes has already asked the club’s management to consider a permanent appointment for Lingard, although United want more than the £10-15 million the Hammers are willing to pay. All of this leaves Solskjaer, Woodward and the Glazers with a decision to make this summer.
Lingard has a year left on his contract and they are faced with the choice of offering him a new contract or cashing in before they potentially lose him for nothing in 2022. Lingard is yet to make a decision on his future, but at 28, he is determined not to waste the best years of his career on the bench. He has played his best games as a number 10 behind the centre-forward, and Solskjaer has already decided that Bruno Fernandez is his first choice for that role. West Ham will not be the only option if he is allowed to leave; if possible, he would love to stay in the Premier League.
It’s been a long road, mentally very difficult but full of hard work and confidence, Lingard posted on social media shortly after England’s final selection was announced on Thursday. It was worth it.
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