Jesse Lingard. 17 years at Manchester United. Cup Final winner, twice. A connection with the fans. From Warrington.
The logical conclusion to that collection of sentences is, therefore, to despise this local lad enjoying himself at his boyhood club, and doing so with some success. Oh wait, it’s not.
Yet, there is still perhaps 30 or 40% of Manchester United’s ‘Twitter fanbase” immensely distraught that Lingard has been given a pay rise.
Lingard’s actually quite good
Does Lingard deserve a new contract simply from a relative quality perspective? As per Squawka, Lingard has created a chance on average every 36 minutes in the Premier League this season. That’s the second-best record of anyone at Manchester United.
Antonio Valencia and Ander Herrera have been held up as potential candidates for United Player of the Season, Lingard plays more key passes per game than either of that pairing while just fewer than Zlatan Ibrahimović and Henrik Mkhitaryan, two ‘world-class’ players.
United have too often wasted possession – sloppy passes, poor touches, weak in the tackle – but Lingard has been dispossessed fewer times per game than Paul Pogba, Ibrahimović, Anthony Martial, Henrik Mkhitaryan or Marcus Rashford with the 5th best pass success rate at the club.
But you can even forget all of those statistics. Lingard’s movement is sensational, and he’s quick, so much so he’s a key element to United’s counter-attack. The 24-year-old is perhaps at his best when he’s without the ball. Statistically, it is difficult to show. Watching him play, it’s not. Next time you watch United, just focus on Lingard.
He pulls defences apart, forcing centre-backs to split, creating space for Mkhitaryan and Ibrahimović and Rashford. There are very few players in the Premier League that can compare to Lingard’s movement, and most would cost in excess of £20m, so who cares about £100k a week?
If I was Jesse Lingard I’d pull up outside the Wetherspoons smoking area in a convertible Bentley and start dabbing at all your furious dads
— Catthew Mole, OBE (@Crazy_Cole79) April 6, 2017
An academy boy
United have always been about players coming through the system. No one questions the hype around Marcus Rashford as an “academy boy”, why do they do so for Lingard?
Lingard didn’t spring onto the stage like Rashford. He’s been waiting for his chance since he was 19, told he was too small and would have to wait longer than other players for his chance. Eventually, it came under Louis van Gaal in the Dutchman’s first Premier League game. Lingard was taken off injured in the first half.
The challenges he’s faced are probably greater than someone like Rashford, but he’s not loved in the same way because he gradually came into the side rather than making a stunning impact.
Academy players are vital for United. It retains the mythology of the club, it gives the next generation training at Carrington, like Angel Gomes and Aidan Barlow, other Mancunians, encouragement that they will get their chance. And, if you’re the kind of football fan focused on finances, it saves millions of pounds when you don’t have to cough up for squad players.
A player in the Lingard mould will only increase in price. As Brexit looms, the value on English players will increase. Lingard’s value will increase, simply because of where he was born. To be a good squad player who is both English and homegrown is a fantastic attribute.
“Squad” players are more important than “star” players
The club’s remarkable success over the decades of Sir Alex Ferguson’s management was founded upon players like Lingard. Jesper Blomqvist was a squad player brought in, but there were others just like Lingard; Nicky Butt, Wes Brom, Phil Neville.
Lingard accepts his role, doesn’t strop or put his ego first. His club is Man United, so if him being on the bench means success for his club, he won’t complain.
José Mourinho struggled to handle the collection of egos at Real Madrid, Lingard is a player at United without an ego of that size. He is the Nicky Butt, the Wes Brown, the Phil Neville of his time. He’s not an incredible player, as most will accept, but he offers performances which, generally, exceed the average, and consistently but is still able to walk through the door because his head hasn’t bloomed to the size of Cristiano Ronaldo’s.
£100k is nothing… relatively
The same fans criticising Lingard for being awarded a new contract are those who whined when Bastian Schweinsteiger was not given a chance and see their best moment of the season as the German’s standing ovation at Old Trafford for his return. While Schweinsteiger trained by himself and offered nothing to the club, he earned £250k every week.
The same goes for last season; while Schweinsteiger jetted between England and Germany without a care for the club, Lingard put the effort in and was slaughtered
“Roy Keane wouldn’t stand for players doing cringey dances when they score” pic.twitter.com/LFgxIRChi3
— jb8521 (@jb_8521) April 6, 2017
For a squad player, £100k a week does seem a lot. Perhaps excessive. But Lingard is more than that, he’s versatile with superb movement and pace, fits every homegrown rule, has scored in two cup finals, enjoys his football, understands Man United and is still improving.
While others talents like Danny Welbeck and Michael Keane have not, Lingard has lasted. He’s been patient for his chance and is, therefore, relatively humble. £100k is a bargain for a player that you will not find anywhere else in the Premier League.