Jesse Lingard: Manchester United’s unlikely man for the big occasion

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Manchester United secured the future of one of their brightest homegrown talents of recent years on Thursday when Jesse Lingard penned a new four-year contract.

Lingard’s new deal also has the option of a further year and will see the forward earn £75,000 a week, according to the Daily Telegraph – a figure which has been met by incredulity in some quarters.

“It seems a lot for a squad player,” former Chelsea striker Tony Cascarino told talkSPORT.

“You used to have to play very well and get rewarded. Now you can play well for a couple of games and get a new improved contract.”

Lingard may not be a world-class talent – he seems unlikely to proclaim himself to be one – but the fact remains the 24-year-old has been a key figure in the Red Devils’ recent success.

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Having been a part of the 2011 Youth Cup winning side which also featured the likes of Paul Pogba, Ravel Morrison and Michael Keane, Lingard had to bide his time to make an impact in the first team.

Sir Alex Ferguson, however, always predicted he would be a late bloomer.

“Jesse Lingard is going to be some player,” he said in 2012.

“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.”

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Of the three pieces of silverware United have collected since the retirement of Ferguson, Lingard has been crucial in every single one.

In three visits to Wembley for finals with United, Lingard has scored in all three, with the club securing victory in each of them.

Louis van Gaal’s tenure as boss is not fondly remembered by the Old Trafford faithful, but the emergence of Lingard, who has worked his way through the youth ranks since joining the club aged seven, is testament to the opportunities the Dutchman gave young players.

That it was Lingard, who Van Gaal handed a maiden United start in his first match in charge, that went on to score the brilliant winner against Crystal Palace in the FA Cup final rounded things off fittingly for the manager – and capped a promising season for the player in which he also scored a memorable equaliser at reigning champions Chelsea and was called up to the England senior squad for the first time.

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Following the arrival of Jose Mourinho as manager and the signing of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, as well as the previous season’s emergence of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, many expected Lingard’s days at Old Trafford to be numbered.

There have indeed been ups and downs – Lingard was among the players picked out by Mourinho for not scoring enough goals after the draw with West Brom – but he appears to have earned the manager’s trust, and was certainly helped by the perfect start.

In Mourinho’s first match in charge, the Warrington-born man scored a superb effort as United beat Leicester City in the Community Shield.

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To say there is a sense that Mourinho is still getting to grips with moulding United would be an understatement, especially in attack.

As a result, Lingard has been in and out of the starting XI, but he has still made 29 appearances in all competitions.

Five goals and three assists suggest his end product is going to have to improve if he is to continue as a first-team regular, but to his credit he tends to save his best for the big occasions.

Yet again the England international had a deciding factor at Wembley, scoring the second goal in United’s 3-2 victory over Southampton.

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Speaking about Lingard after his new deal was announced, Mourinho said: “He has good intelligence which, when combined with his energy and ability, makes for a player with a great future ahead of him.”

Mourinho may be irked by Lingard’s lack of consistency, but a four-year deal is a huge sign of faith in the young winger.

A lack of loyalty is often bemoaned in elite football, but it remains a two-way street. Lingard now has a 17-year association with Manchester United and has helped the club win three trophies in less than 12 months. A new contract is just reward.

If only he could play at Wembley every week.


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