IF there is one thing Manchester United take pride in it is the fact that they give academy players a chance of first-team football. This tradition, in part, led to the famous ‘class of 92’ defining Sir Alex Ferguson’s era at Man United.
Even though the club spent big in the transfer market (when the need arises) there was always an academy player getting a chance at first-team football. Even before the arrival of Sir Alex, players like George Best, Bobby Charlton and Duncan Edwards (who sadly lost his life in the Munich air disaster) were all key players to pass through the academy.
Man United has always given a chance to youth, sometimes it works and sometimes doesn’t. For every Gary Neville there is a Darren Simpson and for every Paul Scholes, there is a Ravel Morrison. Fraizer Campbell, Kieran Richardson, Chris Eagles, Federico Macheda, Danny Welbeck, Paul Pogba… all got opportunities. They impressed for a while but due to different reasons, things didn’t work out. Pogba left for Juventus and Welbeck for Arsenal, with Macheda travelling to Italy, Germany and lower English divisions in search of first-team football. Simpson won the league with Leicester and Campbell and Richardson had their fair share of journeys among smaller Premier League clubs.
Whenever a youngster comes to the fore the expectations are cumbersome. That was how high the ceiling the ‘Class of 92’ had built. With time it became easier to just walk away and try to make it elsewhere rather than struggle to compete against star players signed for huge sums of money.
And then you have fighters like Jesse Lingard, a Man United boy through and through who refused to give up on his dream of playing for his childhood love. Overlooked by David Moyes, In and out of the team under Louis Van Gaal, but now showing his abilities under Jose Mourinho.
It was Sir Alex that advised Lingard to stay at United and not look for opportunities elsewhere like the aforementioned players have done. Speaking to Sky Sports Lingard said: “Me and my dad put that trust in him [Ferguson] to say that, It’s obviously worked. He guessed right. I think it’s my time now. I knew we had to step up and kind of take charge. That’s what I’ve done. The goals have come, which has given me confidence. Each game I just want to score now, that’s my main objective.”
Lingard had sparks of genius under Van Gaal, his FA Cup final goal against Crystal Palace and his sumptuous on the turn bicycle kick against Chelsea were all indicators of his talent. Despite those performances, there were also doubts surrounding his best position and fit for the team, with Jesse playing on the wings, through the middle or as a striker.
Lingard is finally putting consistent performances in Mourinho’s second season. He is stepping up when his team needs him. Lingard’s hard work has made him an ideal fit for Mourinho’s side, more so than the talented Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial. His manager said: “One thing is to be a young talent; another is to be a very good player. Some players are not capable of that jump. From great potential young players, they go to normal players. I think Jesse is giving that jump. He is being more consistent. He is being more adaptable. He understands better the game, the different spaces, the different positions. He is going in a good direction.”
His versatility is another of the attributes that have seen him get more playing time this season. He has been Man United’s savior on more than one occasion, this campaign. He scored a brace to ease the home side’s blushes after Burnley took a 2-0 halftime lead at Old Trafford, he scored a wonderful goal against Everton to seal an important victory, stepped up against Arsenal to help his side to a somewhat fortuitous triumph. And against Chelsea, he came off the bench to score the winner, by doing so he has galvanized United’s quest for a second place finish and momentarily curbed the negative feelings that were brewing after a lackluster performance away at Sevilla in the Champions League.
Lingard might not be the most skilled of footballers. He doesn’t take your breath away with his skills and unstoppable dribbling (although that amazing run against Leicester in the Community Shield is something to savour, he doesn’t do it often), but he is a player who has a knack for being at the right place at the right time. His directness explains why he is enjoying his time under Mourinho
Lingard is a player who is quickly changing opinions and misconceptions about his ability. His road might have been bumpy and his development somewhat unconventional, but he is blossoming into a capable footballer who can bring back the glory days back to Old Trafford. His ever-increasing ability and confidence will also make him a valuable asset to England. He might be one of the stars of the upcoming World Cup if he keeps on getting better.
His social media posts and celebratory dances divide opinions. Some people enjoy the fun side of him while others frown upon such displays, for one reason or another. But all of these are indicators of what type of player Lingard is; a fun-loving, and positively driven hard worker. The difficulties he has faced until now haven’t hindered him. He is striving to get better and is thriving in a Man United side packed with attacking talent. While some of the talented players are struggling to gel with the demands of their manager, Lingard is making it work. While there are still areas of his game he needs to polish, Lingard’s general attitude and steady rise are proof that he will get even better as time goes on.
This season Lingard has made 36 appearances in all competitions. He has scored 13 goals and recorded 4 assists. He is 25 and approaching his so-called ‘peak years’. Chances are, we are yet to see the best of Jesse Lingard.