Jesse Lingard’s resurgence at West Ham - culminating in a dominant performance in the 3-3 draw against Arsenal on Sunday - shows there is hope for players who appear to have lost their way.
If rumours were to be believed, Lingard was lined up for an exit from Old Trafford before the coronavirus struck. Understandably, transfer plans had to be shelved and then rearranged to cope with logistical upheaval and financial disarray. Ultimately, though Lingard was linked with a move away, including a late loan to Portugal, he was kept at the club.
Alex Ferguson remarked as United manager that he expected Lingard to be something of a late developer. He had a couple of loan spells and it seems Ferguson was proved right - Lingard would have to wait until Louis van Gaal to establish himself as a first-team regular.
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He was popular with Jose Mourinho too. A willing runner and capable of intervening with an important goal, he scored 13 times in the 2017/18 season. He was a dependable presence in the squad. His importance faded when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer stepped in, who is known to want to improve professional standards off the pitch and playing standards on it.
From the 2018/19 season, his first-team appearances started to dwindle: 27 games that season, 22 the one after, and none in the current term. The arrival of the quicker Dan James, the more inherently talented Mason Greenwood, and technically and temperamentally superior Bruno Fernandes meant that there simply was no place for Lingard at United.
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The decline in reputation and form was, Lingard said, linked to some troubles at home. Losing his place at United also cost him his place in the England squad, putting his involvement in Euro 2020 in peril. His loan to West Ham has proved to be a huge change for the better.
While David Moyes did not give Lingard any games when the pair were at United together, the qualities that Mourinho liked are probably those appreciated by the Scot. His effort and effectiveness when confident are miles away from a player who tends to hide and offer nothing constructive when the game, or life, is going against him.
By giving Lingard a short-term deal, there was little to lose. He has had his United contract extended in order to retain some transfer value this summer, so he is not playing for his future or financial security. He was arriving at a club playing well, challenging for the Champions League spots and without the toxic atmosphere the fans have done their part in creating at the London Stadium. He has been a transformed player.
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Against Arsenal he scored a brilliant, confident half-volley, and it was the first time he provided both a goal and an assist in the same match since Solskjaer’s first game in charge at United. The assist showed the kind of quick thinking that had deserted him at his previous club, and it is clear that for the right price Moyes and West Ham would benefit from keeping him at the club. After being cut adrift in his last 12 months at United, he now finds himself in charge of his future, and in demand.
Back in the England squad as recognition for his huge improvement, he is just 28 and has only one full year left on his contract. Yes, United will be able to demand a transfer fee for him but they will not be able to force any potential suitors into paying a huge sum. It is up to him where he goes next.
This time last year he might have wondered if his next stop would be a club like Sheffield United, Newcastle or Leeds. Sides that would struggle to stay in the Premier League and be content with a mid-table finish. He had lost his way and there was little reason for any side in the top half to look at him. Now, things have changed. Inter Milan might see value in giving Antonio Conte yet another Premier League player. West Ham may want to keep him as they attack Europe. Most importantly for Lingard, Southgate might even want to take him to the European Championship this summer, and the World Cup next year.
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