A celebration of Jesse Lingard the character, a young man enjoying his life

In Depth

Traditionally, there have been countless reasons for people to dislike Manchester United: Their constant success; Brian Kidd’s little dance when Steve Bruce headed in the goal that won the title in 1993; Peter Schmeichel’s red nose; Cristiano Ronaldo’s blonde noodle highlights.

These days, however, in the post-Ferguson era, there are fewer and fewer reasons for opposition fans to hate the Red Devils.

The appointment of Jose Mourinho certainly helped scratch the itch, but most of the hate has turned into healthy doses of schadenfreude with a dash of pity. United fans have finally got to feel the feels the rest of us feel almost weekly.

But when the chance to hate on something or someone at Old Trafford does come around, the rest of the footballing world is quick to reunite. And most recently it has been in the collective dislike of Jesse Lingard.

A quick look at any of his tweets or Instagram posts or even any tweet that pays him a passing mention will produce hundreds of angry replies about how much people hate him.

But Lingard is the wrong thing to hate. He is not the enemy. In fact, he should be probably celebrated. And I’m not even a United fan. Far from it. I actually support a team that he scored a very important goal against on our biggest day in the last two decades.

And yes, in that moment I hated Lingard and I hated Manchester United. For the pain he impacted on me and because the goal was ridiculously good we couldn’t even moan about it.

But this isn’t about that day. It’s not even about anything Lingard does on the pitch really, despite him doing plenty of good things if you’re a United fan.

Too much personality?

It’s away from the pitch where Lingard seems to draw the most ire. People hate his Instagram stories, his tweets, his post-goal celebrations, his seemingly never-ending desire to dab, his chirpy attitude.

But really is any of that so bad? Unlike the stuff on the pitch, if you don’t like all the other fanfare you can switch off from it. Unfollow him. Block him if you will.

In a world where football and footballers are sanitised to within an inch of their personality is it not actually quite refreshing to see a young lad enjoying his work and expressing himself thusly, with a rare bit of character?

Manchester United have plenty of that as it goes. And really, what’s the problem with all of it?

Football, by its very nature, is entertainment, and we all consume it in different ways. Some call themselves purists and want to see the game played in an attractive way but stripped down of all the nonsense of animated gifs, goal music and half-time challenges.

Some embrace the Americanisation of the game and all the fireworks (sometimes literally) that go along with it. Lingard – and his United team-mates – are footballers for the latter camp.

Too young?

It’s okay to prefer your footballers to be sedate and boring, to be Harry Kane, and that’s fine. But there’s no point getting angry about a Lingard, doing what young people do and acting like a bit of an idiot but out of enjoyment.

After all, anyone over 25 would be hard pressed to look back to when they were that young and not remember them being a bit of a juvenile muppet at times. Except Harry Kane maybe.

Maybe it’s that childishness people hate. After all, Lingard is hardly a kid anymore. And Marcus Rashford seems to be a bit more mature than Lingard, five years his senior.

But does that matter? Paul Gascoigne acted like a big kid all his career, and was, quite rightly, embraced by all corners of football’s community. It’s literally harmless fun, and isn’t that what football is supposed to be?

And really, Lingard doesn’t seem like a bad guy. At all.

He was even spotted watching Everton Ladies in a bid to support the women’s game (which, let’s face it way more footballers should do) and made some kids’ day by having a kick around with them down the park.

There have been mistakes: a tweet replying to followers about playing FIFA was sent from his official Twitter account while Lingard was with his team-mates at a service to remember the victims of the Munich air disaster.

His response that it was sent by a member of his social media team seemed to anger people even more – even though pretty much all high-profile footballers have them these days.

But again, is that something worth getting annoyed about? That and the seemingly perennial chipperness, like he’s having way more fun than you.

Unfortunately there are lots of people in the world having more fun than you, that’s how life works sadly. And you can get angry about it or ignore it.

It just seems like wasted energy when there are legit lots of things in football worth getting actually angry about: the imbalance of TV money, ticket prices, agents, the incompetence of match officials.

People that hate on Lingard really need to channel that hatred into something more productive.

Turn off Instagram and go read a book or learn a language or something. Hell, go watch women’s football. You might even bump into the man himself.

By Jim Daly


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