It’s taken barely two months for Jesse Lingard to fulfil the challenge Ole Gunnar Solskjaer set him when sanctioning his loan move to West Ham United.
The 28-year-old’s Manchester United career was stagnating in the first half of this season, with just three appearances in the Carabao Cup and FA Cup, and a change of scenery was clearly required.
Having been linked with Sheffield United for most of the transfer window, Lingard would have been delighted to get a move to a club challenging for the top four in West Ham, and as he departed Solskjaer suggested this wasn’t necessarily the death knell for his United career most people expected, even though his contract expires in 2022.
“We want Jesse to come back here revitalised and having shown at West Ham how good a player he is, of course,” the United manager said.
“He’s just been unfortunate with a couple of issues – some periods that he had to stay away from us with the Covid and isolation, with the close contact.
“The rest of the team has done well. We’ve had little to no injuries and he’s not forced his way into the team, unfortunately. I just want him to go there and enjoy himself, show how good a player he is and come back. He a Man United player through and through.”
Having not made a single Premier League appearance for United this season, Lingard has now started six league games in a row for the Hammers, scoring four goals and setting up two more. It’s been an impressive return to form and he’s ticked off the challenge to look revitalised and show West Ham what a good player he is.
He’s played at least 82 minutes in all six of his West Ham starts, which considering his lack of football for United this season shows an impressive level of fitness.
His latest contribution was another goalscoring one in the 2-0 success over Leeds that keeps David Moyes’ side in fifth, with a game in hand that would back them into the Champions League places.
Lingard saw his penalty saved by Illan Meslier but he reacted quickly to tap home the rebound. It was the first time Lingard had taken a penalty since Solskjaer’s first game in charge of United, the 5-1 win at Cardiff in December 2018.
Back then things looked promising for Lingard at United. He looked like one of the big winners of the Solskjaer era, but gradually his form has tailed off to the point that he was a peripheral member of the squad this season.
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Bruno Fernandes and Luke Shaw scored the goals to clinch an unexpected, but empathic, victory for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s troops against the league leaders.
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There was always a good footballer in Lingard, an intelligent one too, able to create space for others and pick up good positions. It’s less than three years since he was a key member of the England side that reached the 2018 World Cup semi-finals.
He evidently needed a fresh start away from Old Trafford, however. The same was true of Chris Smalling, who excelled at Roma, and the same can be said for Phil Jones, who will no doubt prove he is still a good player when he finally leaves the club. These are players that have lost their way in the churn of the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era at United.
After Smalling’s impressive loan spell at Roma he made it clear he wanted to make that move permanent. The question for United now is what they do with Lingard this summer.
Solskjaer’s comments clearly left the door open for a return, although that would probably necessitate a new contract as well. A Lingard on this kind of form could certainly be a reliable back-up to Bruno Fernandes, although given how often the Portuguese plays he might find chances hard to come by again.
There is also the spectre of Paul Pogba’s future hanging in the air. If he does leave this summer that might mean United are a senior midfielder down and they’ve not yet had the contribution from Donny van de Beek to be able to hang their hat on the Dutchman next season.
Much of this may come down to Lingard, however. He’s unlikely to be anything more than a squad player at United, so if he wants first-team football every week a permanent departure may be the solution.
His impressive form for West Ham will help him and United in that regard. Lingard is reminding his potential suitors of his quality right now and if there’s some competition for his signature United might be able to raise more than they’d expected from a sale. Right now Lingard looks like a £20m footballer and while the pandemic and his contract situation will play a part in a final fee, a bidding war can only help United.
If Solskjaer is to get everything he wants in the summer transfer window then he will need to raise money through player sales as well. Lingard could certainly contribute to that budget in this kind of form.