Jesse Lingard opened his World Cup scoring account at the weekend with a spectacular finish in England’s 6-1 win over Panama.
Having already won a penalty for his team 15 minutes earlier, which Harry Kane slotted away, Lingard played a neat one-two with Raheem Sterling before curling his effort from outside of the box in to the top corner.
The United academy graduate doesn’t score many sitters. He has a whole host of excellent goals, as showcased by the club’s official Twitter account, and added to his collection on Sunday afternoon.
Lingard has become an important player for England after repaying the faith showed in him by Gareth Southgate, who took a shine to him at U-21 level when he managed the international youth side.
Aged 25, Lingard’s rise has been a slow process, with him going out on loan to Leicester as a teenager, before spells at Birmingham, Brighton and Derby.
After scoring in the pre-season in the summer of 2013, David Moyes sent him out on loan again, possibly taking some advice from Sir Alex Ferguson. The legendary former manager had predicted that Lingard would be in to his 20’s before we started seeing what he was capable of.
“Jesse Lingard is going to be some player,” Ferguson said. “He is 19, came through our youth system and is built like Jean Tigana was for France. But he never got into the limelight there until he was about 24, and I think that will be the same with Lingard. As an attacking midfielder he has got a really good talent. I think he will be a player we have high hopes for, definitely.”
Lingard did well on loan in the Championship, scoring six in 13 games for Birmingham, four in 17 for Brighton and two in 15 for Derby, leading Louis van Gaal to give him a chance in United’s first team. He started him for United’s opening game of the season against Swansea but with less than half an hour played Lingard went off with a knee injury that stopped him playing until February.
The player later blamed himself for the injury claiming that he had been eager to impress and dived in to a challenge. There’s nothing to suggest that his excitability has lessened in the years that followed either, with him putting a shift in every time he plays.
Lingard’s finishing was criticised following England’s opening game of the tournament against Tunisia, when on a different day he could have scored a hattrick. He usually is pretty reliable in front of goal but he’s yet to show total consistency in his performances.
However, his career has been littered with brilliant moments. He’s scored two goals to help United win two cup finals, the first in the FA Cup in 2016 and the second in the League Cup the following year.
He scored twice in United’s 3-1 win at the Emirates, a late winner against Chelsea at Old Trafford last season, as well as a goal at Stamford Bridge a couple of seasons before.
While his goals are welcome, his greatest asset is likely his movement off the ball. He’s always making great runs which give the team options while also creating space for his teammates. He doesn’t stop working all game either meaning the opposition never get a rest.
Lingard also brings plenty to the team off the field too, as a popular member of the squad who is always positive and having a laugh with the other players. We’ve seen that at both United and now the England camp, even if his social media antics manage to wind up middle-aged supporters.
“He is the one that makes things work and in the right moment he is positive and he makes everyone in the class laugh,” Mourinho said last week. “He creates a good atmosphere and that is the atmosphere that we always want in our class, because I was also a school teacher and I know what it means. We like the funny person that doesn’t disturb and makes everyone happier.”
Mourinho has always been a big fan of Lingard though and has shown faith in the forward since being appointed.
Marcus Rashford, with 52 appearances, Romelu Lukaku with 51 and Nemanja Matic with 49, are the only players with more games than Lingard, 48, last season.
Mourinho has received little credit for Lingard’s development though, in the way Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino get praised for the players who have begun to shine under their watch.
Lingard wasn’t even on the reserve list for England’s squad in 2016 and after two years of playing for Mourinho, he’s one of the first names on the teamsheet at the World Cup.
“He’s given me confidence by putting faith in me to play in my preferred role in the No 10 position,” Lingard said earlier this season. “I can only thank him for that. It’s good that I can repay him by scoring goals and helping the team. It’s up to him if he believes in a player and trusts the player to go and perform. He’s done that with me.”
For many English United fans who aren’t big supporters of the national team, Lingard is giving them a reason to tune in. He’s had two good performances so far and if his United career is anything to go by, Lingard may still have a big moment in him yet.