The Manchester United forward in the finest form does not currently play for Manchester United. Jesse Lingard may have actually played his last game for the club but seems destined to be United’s fourth England squad inclusion for the European Championship.
West Ham has turned out to be the perfect loan for Lingard. He was aware of Sheffield United’s interest before the January window opened and touched base with Dean Henderson about the set-up under Chris Wilder. Sheffield United are now managerless and the Premier League anthem will not be playing at Bramall Lane next season.
Intermediaries floated the idea of Tottenham as Lingard’s camp had encouraged speculation with them at the tail-end of the summer window. Lingard played the best football of his career under Jose Mourinho and London living appealed, even in a pandemic. Only Spurs were never keen on Lingard.
Another former United manager is coaxing the finest football from Lingard since his ‘Messi Lingard’ purple patch of 2017-18. David Moyes included Lingard in his only pre-season tour squad at United and sanctioned a fruitful loan to Birmingham City, where Lingard pillaged four goals on his debut in 2013.
Playing under a manager who valued him as a teenager and for a success-starved club without the pressure or presence of the hateful faction of their matchgoers. Little wonder West Ham are in nosebleed territory and that Lingard is enjoying a career renaissance.
Eight games, six goals and three assists. Beyond the numbers, Lingard has galvanised a team that was four points off fourth at the time of his arrival and now occupy that coveted berth, enriched by West Ham deposing Chelsea.
The garish backpack, Partridge-tastic pistachio plugging and insignia celebration used to overshadow Lingard’s merits as a footballer. He hit the ground running at West Ham despite 179 minutes of football all season for United because he is a dedicated athlete.
Lingard gained extra muscle mass in anticipation of Jose Mourinho’s appointment in 2016 and he did not succumb to lockdown lethargy last year. The Manchester Evening News reported Lingard topped United’s high speed running (the total distance covered at a speed of 5.5 metres per second or above) with 13,341 metres in a single session and he was also first for an intensity score which measures the total amount of high speed running an athlete does, coupled with the total distance of accelerations and decelerations. Lingard recorded 18,001m – nearly 2,000 metres more than Maguire in second.
That natural athleticism has left even the most hardened Green Street regular smitten and West Ham hope Lingard will upgrade from renting to buying in the capital. His United contract expires next year and he turns 29 in November, yet Lingard is one of the Premier League’s in-form forwards and back in the England fold.
He is worth a minimum £20million. United’s haggling with Roma over Chris Smalling resulted in a similar compromise on deadline day, a deal rising to €20m. Smalling was a defender operating in a perceived ‘weaker’ league. Lingard’s stock is higher.
Lingard’s form has coincided with a slump from Bruno Fernandes and his old mucker Marcus Rashford has been wilting for a while. Nobody can argue United are better off with Donny van de Beek than Lingard, already a scorer of more Premier League goals than Anthony Martial and as many as Edinson Cavani.
It has begged the question as to whether United should have retained Lingard. Some have short memories. Lingard had played 179 minutes in three domestic cup games all season and his race was run at United.
Lingard suffered a raging hangover following the 2018 World Cup, struggled to overcome a groin injury and, when he regained form midway through 2018-19 under Mourinho, enhanced by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, he tweaked his hamstring and suffered two botched comebacks.
Then there was the crass holiday video Solskjaer took a dim view of and Lingard’s approval ratings nosedived with the fanbase. His removal in the defeat to Crystal Palace was cheered by many at Old Trafford and 2019-20 was largely a write-off. Lingard’s only league goal came in the final minutes of the domestic campaign at Leicester.
There were flickers of a recovery in the back-to-back wins over Tottenham and Manchester City in December 2019, a pivotal week with Solskjaer on the rocks, but that month is more remembered for Lingard’s openness about personal issues in his family and the disastrous dink onto the roof of Ben Foster’s net at 0-0 against Watford. United lost 2-0.
The next month, Solskjaer was captured switching The Hairdryer on at Lingard against City. Lingard was getting cut from squads before the pandemic turned the world upside down.
Some players have an adviser whereas others have an entourage. Lingard falls into the latter and that has not been healthy for his career. Lingard’s father, Roy George, is his agent but there was a fleeting dalliance with Mino Raiola that ended almost as soon as it had started and a hanger-on attempted to claim credit for the loan to West Ham.
Now Lingard is out of the United maelstrom and out of Manchester, he is thriving again. He remains one of the most likeable United players among staff and his FA Cup final winner was celebrated in the club’s anti-discriminatory video last week.
Should United cut ties permanently in the summer, Lingard will be celebrated again for the late developer success story that has already inspired Scott McTominay. He greeted Shola Shoretire, the latest scion, at Old Trafford last month and Lingard’s legacy is literally painted onto the walls of the academy building at Carrington.