“He will become a player when he’s 22 or so. As an attacking midfielder he has got a really good talent. I think he will be a player we have high hopes for, definitely.” – Sir Alex Ferguson, about three years ago
It’s a hard road to the Premier League, as thousands of footballers can attest to.
At a club like Manchester United – where developing youth is part of the DNA – it’s probably even more difficult.
So it is with cautious optimism that we examine the rise of another young starlet in Warrington-born Jesse Lingard.
The talented forward will turn 23 in December, and only made his MUFC debut last season before suffering an injury in that very match. There have been four pre-season tour opportunities and four loan spells, but it is now looking like his time has arrived.
Young players develop in all sorts of ways. Some turn up as a precocious teenager [a la Ronaldo and Rooney] and never look back. But there is also the well-known path that Lingard has taken. You put in your time in the academy, sign professional forms, get taken on a pre-season tour, take a loan spell – but all the while, keep your head down and work for it.
Lingard took up pro terms with United in the summer of 2011. The following season he went on his first pre-season tour [1 start, 3 cameos, 0 goals] and the first of four loan spells – an uneventful two-month stint with Leicester City.
In the summer of 2013, the youngster caught the eye of David Moyes, who played him extensively during the pre-season tour of Australia and Asia – a tour that ended with Lingard scoring four goals in four matches and finishing as top scorer. This drew the praise of veteran defender Rio Ferdinand, who said:
“He is a great little player. On the previous tour, he was one of our best players but it didn’t work out for him last season.
The effort and praise weren’t enough to garner first-team consideration for Lingard however, so a loan to Birmingham City was the next waypoint along the path. Lingard would score six goals in 13 matches for the Blues – including a stunning four-goal haul in his debut.
Jesse returned to Old Trafford for a brief spell, and made the bench for a Premier League match, but another loan was to follow – this time to Brighton and Hove Albion. Lingard helped the Seagulls to the promotion playoffs, netting four goals in seventeen matches during his time on the coast.
The 2014/15 campaign started with a third chance during pre-season, and this time it looked like Lingard would be sticking with the senior team – especially after a tally in the ICC Final against Liverpool. Louis van Gaal gave him a first Premier League start against Swansea, but in a case of unbelievable bad luck Lingard was injured in the first half and he lost momentum again.
After his recovery, a fourth loan ensued – this time to Derby County. Lingard would chip in with two goals for the Rams in fourteen matches.
Which, of course, brings us to the current campaign. It wasn’t certain that Lingard would get his chance, but with the attack stuttering and Memphis Depay struggling to adapt to Premier League life the chance has come again. Lingard has brought pace and directness to a side that has shown a need for both. He is also no slouch in the defensive department, tracking back responsibly as required.
A first Premier League goal came in front of the Stretty against WBA, and it looks like there may be no looking back now.
We all love to see a local lad come through, and here’s hoping Jesse Lingard is going to seize this latest opportunity.