Jesse Lingard has become the latest Manchester United player to divide opinion, within his own fanbase as well as outside it, as the 25-year-old enjoys the best season of his career to date.
The local lad has been at the club since he was seven and, despite largely failing to impress on a consistent basis before this season, has scored his fair share of important goals.
Lingard’s extra-time winner in 2016 won United their first FA Cup in over a decade, while he also scored in United’s 3-2 win over Southampton in the League Cup final last year. With Wembley clearly a favoured stomping ground of Lingard, he also scored in the 2-1 victory over Leicester in the Community Shield.
This season, Lingard has averaged a goal or assist every 91 minutes he’s been on the field. For comparison, Kevin De Bruyne has a goal or assist every 106 minutes, Roberto Firmino every 109 minutes, David Silva every 114 minutes, Eden Hazard every 118 minutes, Christian Eriksen every 144 minutes and Dele Ali every 164 minutes.
Yet despite his impressive form, Lingard still manages to rub people up the wrong way. Whether it’s his presence on social media or varied enthusiastic celebrations, people love to criticise him.
On Friday evening, Lingard started for his country and Twitter was full of England supporters complaining about his inclusion in the friendly against Holland. “What does Lingard actually do?” was a popular question. The player answered it perfectly when scoring a good goal to gift his team a win.
Having initially received the ball outside the area and playing in Danny Rose for the cross, Lingard was in the right place at the right time to pounce on the rebound and slot the ball in to the corner. Club teammate and bestie Marcus Rashford was among the players to mob him after he scored. If he’s an unpopular figure off the field, it’s clear that he is well-liked among the people he shares a dressing room with.
This was his first goal for his country as he was able to repay the faith that manager Gareth Southgate has repeatedly put in him.
“I’m delighted for Jesse,” Southgate said after the game. “He’s a player we’ve worked with for three or four years from the Under 21s and this year he is starting to finish the chances.”
Southgate has long been a fan of Lingard and relied on him when manager of the U-21s. His chances with the national team before this season were likely afforded to him because of the manager’s knowledge of Lingard’s hard-working mentality and keenness to do whatever is asked of him on the pitch.
Before now, Southgate has claimed that Alli’s place as his country’s no.10 is under threat because of the performances Lingard has enjoyed this season and how his rise in form isn’t a shock to him.
“There are some similarities in how they play, some differences,” said Southgate. “Dele’s goal scoring record over the previous two years has been phenomenally high. He hasn’t be able to convert those chances this year, but it’s great to have those players to pick from. It’s not a surprise for us because he’s a player we’ve believed in from early on with the Under 21s. What he’s fulfilling now is converting chances into goals. He’s always been a player who has been clever at getting between the lines and finding space. The difference is converting his ability to finish in training into matches. We have felt he’s a player who cans score goals, no question.”
Lingard has thrived under Jose Mourinho this season and, having never played in an international tournament before now, will certainly be going to the World Cup.
He has been a late bloomer, as Sir Alex Ferguson predicted, but he’s more than making up for lost time, with both club and country. And the fans who deride him now won’t be complaining if he’s Milly Rocking after scoring for England in Russia.