Jesse Lingards problems at Manchester United may only have one solution – The Independent

Posted: February 21, 2020 at 12:43 pm


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On what was a filthy night in northwest Belgium, amid the swirling wind, rain and hail, Jesse Lingard reached a milestone. It was his 200th appearance as a Manchester United player. For context, that is 48 more than Dwight Yorke, 23 more than the late Duncan Edwards and remarkably fifteen more than Eric Cantona.

Lingard joins a century of others in Uniteds 200 club. At a sporting institution of this size, stature and ambition, no player reaches such a point without having the talent and application that is required to succeed there. This may be an era of mediocrity in Uniteds long, trophy-laden history but it is nevertheless a proud and commendable achievement.

And yet, Thursday was otherwise an evening for Lingard to forget. Only a few United players performed well in the 1-1 draw with Club Brugge and Lingard was not among them. He was far from the worst, further still from the best. But, as is increasingly the case with Lingard, he received more criticism than any of his equally ineffective team-mates.

Some of it is understandable. It is easy to see what many supporters think Lingard should be producing when looking at new recruit Bruno Fernandes. The Portuguese has only made three appearances to date this latest outing came as a substitute and lasted just nine minutes but it is already clear that he makes things happen in a way that Lingard, Juan Mata and Andreas Pereira do not.

And as United are still in the market for another creative, attack-minded type capable of playing as a No 10, it is hard not to conclude that Lingards United career has only one direction of travel. His contract expires in the summer of next year, when United can automatically extend Lingards existing terms for a further 12 months. By that point, will they want to? And willLingard himself?

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The answer to both of those questions will almost certainly be no unless his long standing struggles for form and the relentless, sometimes gratuitous criticism of his performances have subsided. Lingard is attempting to turn things around.He has scaled back his social media habits. He does not read the newspapers.Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has spoken positively but also sincerely about the players efforts to improve in training.

And yet, it is also only natural for Lingard to be affected by hisform and the near-constant criticism. Last weekend, he reacted to the death of television presenter Caroline Flack by lamenting the pressure of social media and the national press in the public eye. Its actually a joke, he wrote. All human beings have feelings we are not robots. He has not tweeted again in the days since.

Any high-profile attacking player who only has two goals and an assist to show for their efforts midway through the season must accept they will be scrutinised, but this pervasive idea that Lingard is a worse player than the majority of his team-mates is wrong. It foregrounds the most challenging 18 months of his life and career and it forgets the previous two-and-a-half years of progress and personal development under Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho.

Solskjaer, by contrast, has not managed to elicit the same level of performance. Lingard has never been an easy player to categorise, but he does not fit neatly into any of the Norwegians preferred systems. There once was room for the bustling, energetic and hard-working presence that Lingard was when at his best. At 27-years-old, there is no reason why he cannot be that player again. But in order for him to rediscover that form, a change of scenery feels more and more necessary.

Earlier this week, amid all the fury about Paul Pogbas long-term future, it went relatively unnoticed that Mino Raiola publicly confirmed he is now representing Lingard as well as Pogba. For sure, I will reach out to Ole. I only wish him all the best, Raiola said as part of his spat with Solskjaer. Wishing him all the best is wishing Paul Pogba all the best, and wishing Jesse Lingard all the best.

And what may now be best for both Lingard and United is a parting of ways. It would be a shame for an academy-produced, locally-sourced first-team player to leave the club but the incessant debate on Lingards true ability is beginning to develop some common, neutral ground. Whether you believe he is a talented player or not, it is becoming increasingly clear that he is in need of a new start.

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Jesse Lingards problems at Manchester United may only have one solution - The Independent

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February 21st, 2020 at 12:43 pm