It’s Jess Business
Somehow it seemed appropriate for Jesse Lingard to score the last goal of Manchester United’s 2019-20 season and for it to be the goal that confirmed their win over Leicester City, the achievement of a third place finish – the best since the days of Sir Alex Ferguson – and also confirmed their place in this season’s UEFA Champions League. It was a happy ending for a frustrating season for Lingard. The arrival of Bruno Fernandes in January and the emergence of Mason Greenwood as a first team starter had seen him slip down the pecking order.
While Jesse has been a Manchester United player since he was in school, it was not until he was 23 that he made his league debut, having had loan spells at Leicester City, Birmingham City, Brighton and Hove Albion and Derby County. In 2010-11, he was part of the Manchester United team which won the FA Youth Cup, playing alongside Paul Pogba, in his first spell with the club. Lingard then made 11 appearances for England at under 21 level. Despite that success, as often happens at big clubs, he struggled for game time, not making his first appearance in the Premier League for another four years.
By the end of the 2019-20 season he had played 133 Premier League games for the club, scoring 18 goals. But with 86 starts and 47 games off the bench in five seasons, he has found himself established as a valuable squad player but struggling to start more than half United’s games. However, there were some wonderful highlights in those seasons. He scored the winning goal in United’s 2016 FA Cup final victory over Crystal Palace in extra time – but only joined the game after 90 minutes. Nonetheless it was a memorable goal with a great strike from outside the penalty area. In 2017 he started and scored in the EFL Cup final as United beat Southampton 3-2. In the same season, he helped the club to win the UEFA Europa League but only after coming off the bench, late in the game.
His England games included the 2018 World Cup in Russia when England lost in the semi-finals. Lingard started five of England’s seven games. The only one where he did not feature was the final group game when England had already qualified for the knock-out stages and made wholesale changes to rest key players. He scored for England against Panama. That World Cup was undoubtedly the highlight of his England career. Ironically, he found it easier to get a starting place for England than for his club. England manager, Gareth Southgate said of him: ‘He’s a positive player, he really links the play well and looks a real threat. He’s got a strong mentality. He’s an exciting player.’
Lingard has been quick to take responsibility for his situation, writing on his Instagram account: ‘I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways. This season has been difficult for so many reasons. I lost who I was as a player and person, but I never wanted to give up, I knew who I really was on and off the pitch and knew that having been there before, I could get there again. This meant working harder than I’d ever done before and trusting in those around me that they knew how to best help me achieve that. I know the fans have been frustrated, but in all this time my love for this club and everyone connected to it has never left me. This team, this club is my family and I will continue to keep working harder than ever to help this team achieve its goal.’
Still only 27, Jesse Lingard still has a lot to give whether at Old Trafford or elsewhere.
Q: You are active on social media, why is that?
I like to be interactive with fans and it’s good to have an opportunity to give back sometimes. I like to give fans an insight into what I get up to off the field.
Q: Going back to the successful 2011 Manchester United Youth team you were in, who would you say was the best player in that team?
Ravel Morrison. He was very technically gifted – and naturally had great dribbling and shooting ability. Also Paul Pogba. I have been playing with Paul since he was 16 – he was good at that age but has been maturing year by year, but you could see even then what a good player he would turn out to be. Of course, he has gone on to win many trophies including the World Cup. [Morrison never played for the Man U first team and has been at nine other clubs without fulfilling his potential].
Q: How do you assess the 2019-20 season?
It’s been a bit different and I haven’t been playing as much as I would like but I know what I have to do to get my confidence back. I have been working hard and I am waiting for the opportunity.
Q: Was lockdown difficult?
The fitness coach gave us a programme to do during lockdown, both in the gym and a bit of running outside. When we were back in training, we had some really intense sessions, so we were ready to go when lockdown lifted. And it was great to be back with the boys. During lockdown I kept busy. I like to read and also watch Netflix – Money Heist. I kept on top of my diet and I’ve been having my pistachios* for my snacks, as they give you a lot more energy and they aid recovery.
I always have motivation to keep fit. I could go for a run and do stuff in my home gym. Having recovery days are also important so that you don’t overwork. I was very motivated because I wanted to come out of lockdown the strongest and fittest I could be.
Q: Is there a fitness exercise that you hate?
I don’t think so. I like to work my upper body, core and my legs. There’s a lot you can do just using your own body weight. I don’t think there’s anything I try to avoid!
Q: When you come on as a sub, do you feel more pressure to prove yourself?
I think you need to be ready in all circumstances, whether you’re starting or off the bench. As a sub, you can always make an impact on a game whether you get five minutes or 25 minutes. It’s just about you being ready to make an impact and help the team at the end of the day.
Q: Is the current team the best team since Fergie retired?
It’s definitely up there. There been a number of transition periods over the years but we’re definitely moving in the right direction. We’ve been playing well and are full of confidence so I think the only way is up!
Q: How far are Manchester United from challenging for the Premier League title?
Not that far. We’ve been working hard and each season growing as a team, getting used to the way the manager wants us to play and the way we want to play. It’s about growing as a team and I think we’re going in the right direction at the moment.
Q: Which other Premier League clubs impress you?
We don’t really think about other teams. We focus on ourselves from what we need to do. We know what we need to do to get the job done.
Q: Would you like to see Jaydon Sancho in a United shirt?
Jaydon is a brilliant player. I’ve seen his qualities for England and I think he could be a great addition to any team.
Q: How good is Mason Greenwood?
He’s been brilliant ever since he started training with the first team. He’s done exceptionally well. And even though he’s so young, he’s taken responsibility and brought the goals and assists in. He’s been a really good addition to the team. He’s been banging goals in since he was very young. The manager has seen his talent and put him in the team. Now for him, it’s about working hard, staying humble and keeping his feet on the ground. I think he will do that because he’s always been a humble guy but with confidence as well. The way he’s been playing recently he’s been helping the team and scoring goals. That’s all he can keep doing and I wasn't surprised that England called him up.
Q: What you want to achieve in your football career and afterwards?
I go to work every day with a smile on my face because I am happy playing football. I do not worry too much about the future. It is important to play with confidence and take what I do in training into games, being patient and waiting for my opportunity.
Q: Having been at United since you were about seven, could you ever see yourself playing for another club?
I love the club and I love going to work and as I said, I go with a smile every day.
Q: Is it difficult coping with pressure?
Football is football and there is always going to be pressure. We know what we have to do and we don’t think of anything else. It’s just about going into a game and getting the three points.
Q: What do you eat for breakfast?
Two slices of toast, scrambled eggs, beans and avocado, perhaps.
Q: What were you eating during lockdown?
Chicken and pasta with broccoli and potatoes. Fish some days. I think chicken, pasta and broccoli would be my go-to meal!
Q: What is your favourite goal?
Can I have three? My first goal for Manchester United (November 2015 against West Brom). The winning goal in the FA Cup Final 2016. Scoring for England against Panama in the 2018 World Cup?
Q: Your goal celebrations are well known – imaginary flute, Milly Rock, JL. Are they spontaneous or do you plan them in advance?
All my family are dancers so dancing comes natural to me. Marcus (Rashford) came up with the idea of making the letters JL with my fingers.